May 14, 2015 — Because they are defending so many states in the 2016 Senate elections (24 of the 34 in-cycle seats are Republican-held), the open Nevada seat could be one of the few available national offensive opportunities for the majority party. Therefore, Republican leaders have been working hard to field a strong candidate to fight to succeed retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D), and they may have found him.
Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) is the party leaders’ first choice and, based upon his 71 percent re-election performance last November, the Silver State chief executive is clearly the individual best positioned to convert the seat. But Sandoval is committed to serving his second term and consistently says he has no interest in a 2016 Senate race. That being the case, Republicans are turning to Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV-3), and late reports suggest their courting efforts are working.
After originally saying he would not challenge Reid when it looked like the senator would seek re-election, Rep. Heck now appears to be moving toward entering the open-seat race. With most other Republicans appearing ready to yield to him, Heck having a clear path to the GOP nomination is highly realistic.
Should all of this occur, it is very likely that a general election contest between Heck and former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D) will transpire. Sen. Reid endorsed Masto, who served two terms as AG from 2007 to the beginning of this year, even before she announced her own candidacy. Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV-1) continues to say she is considering entering the Senate race, but Masto is quickly coalescing the Democratic support she will need to likely repel any intra-party challenge.
Nevada, with its six electoral votes and swing voter history, will be a pivotal state in the presidential election. Therefore, the presidential contest will heavily impact this important US Senate campaign. A Masto-Heck contest will be rated as an early-cycle “toss-up.” If the Republicans can reel in Heck, as they appear close to be doing, this Senate race becomes a viable conversion opportunity.
Another potential statewide candidate, state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson (R), says he will run for Heck’s open 3rd Congressional District if the two-term House member decides to run for the Senate. This would give the GOP a strong horse with which to attempt to hold the politically marginal southern Nevada 3rd CD and present a united Republican ticket.