Tag Archives: Ross Miller

Reid Endorses Successors;
Duckworth to Run

March 31, 2015 — Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s (D) surprise retirement announcement on Friday quickly yielded another unexpected pair of political moves. After saying he wouldn’t run next year, Reid quickly expressed support for former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto as his successor. This, even before Cortez Masto issued a statement of candidacy.

Just a day later, he and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) then both announced their support for Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to succeed Reed as the party leader. It was believed that he and Durbin would battle each other for the leadership post, but their action suggests a smooth transition will presumably occur.

Reid’s decision to take a stand in the Democratic primary is within character because he often involves himself in pre-primary Senate races around the country. But, it’s unusual even for him to do so before the candidate is in the race.

This being said, presumably it has been worked out in Democratic circles well behind the scenes that Cortez Masto is the preferred candidate. Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV-1), however, doesn’t appear part of this deal since she describes herself as “seriously considering” a bid for the Senate. Former Secretary of State Ross Miller (D), who lost the race for attorney general last November to Republican Adam Laxalt, is yet another potential Democratic candidate.
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Nevada Numbers – Both Presidential and Senate Races Tested

MARCH 3, 2015 — Gravis Marketing conducted a poll of the Nevada electorate (Feb. 21-22; 955 registered Nevada voters; 438 likely Republican Nevada Caucus attenders; 324 likely Democratic Nevada Caucus attenders; 193 likely general election voters) in order to test both party nomination contests, and gauge how Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D) shapes up for re-election.

For Republicans, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) is again pacing the field, this time with 27 percent of the vote according to the Gravis study. Following in second place, eight percentage points behind, is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 19 percent.

All other candidates posted in single digits. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was third with eight percent; Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) had the most disappointing performance in recording just three percent; and retired Maryland neurosurgeon Ben Carson was not included on the ballot test questionnaire.
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Nevada Republicans Choose Amodei; Angle Waits in the Wings

Nevada's congressional districts.

The Nevada State Supreme Court will eventually decide if the Republican Party’s action taken this weekend has meaning. The GOP officials held a nominating convention on Saturday to choose a candidate for the 2nd Congressional District special election tentatively scheduled for September 13th.

In what constituted little surprise, former state party chairman Mark Amodei, who spent 12 years as a state legislator and briefly ran for US Senate in 2010, was selected as the Republican congressional nominee by the voting members. He easily defeated state Sen. Greg Brower and former Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold on the first ballot.

But, the nomination may become irrelevant. Soon after Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) was appointed to replace resigned Sen. John Ensign (R), Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller ruled that the special election process would be conducted as an open one-election contest in which all individuals desiring to run would qualify for the ballot. The Nevada Republican Party sued to overturn Miller’s decision, arguing that the ambiguous state election code pertaining to special election process – this is the first federal special election in Nevada’s history – actually allows the political parties to choose their own nominees. A lower court judge agreed with the Republican argument, hence the necessity for the state Supreme Court to become involved. The high court’s only action so far is to say that they may need more time to decide and Gov. Brian Sandoval’s Sept. 13 election date schedule may have to be postponed.

The Nevada Democratic Party has yet to make any move vis-a-vis the special election and now find themselves facing a key decision. Officially backing Secretary of State Miller’s “battle royal” election format concept, the party may now be forced to caucus and nominate a candidate so that Amodei and the Republicans don’t gain a major advantage should the high court uphold the lower court ruling. If the Democrats do convene, state Treasurer Kate Marshall, already an announced congressional candidate, is the prohibitive favorite to receive the official party nod.

But the uncertainty for Amodei, in particular, won’t end with the Supreme Court ruling or even the special election itself. Sharron Angle, the former state assemblywoman who became the GOP 2010 Senatorial nominee only to lose to Majority Leader Harry Reid in the general election, was originally a candidate in the special election but has since withdrawn. She has the luxury of simply waiting for the regular election in the newly drawn seat to run either against a brand new Republican incumbent, now most likely Amodei should the GOP hold the seat in September or whenever the special is actually held, or a Democrat in what should be a Republican-leaning seat under the new redistricting plan.

Nevada’s congressional districts will change significantly because, as the fastest growing state in the nation, a new fourth district will be created as the result of reapportionment. Though the Democratic legislature and Republican governor drew to a stalemate over redistricting, meaning a court will now draw the final map, it is pretty clear that the city of Las Vegas will have two seats, rural Clark County (Las Vegas) and the central part of the state will occupy one, and the northern sector, the heart of the district in question, will comprise the new NV-2. The current district must shed 161,424 people, which is 24% above the new state CD population target of 675,138 individuals.

The winner of the special election will represent the current 2nd congressional district for the remainder of this Congress but will run for re-election in a seat that is considerably different. The area sure to be removed from the new 2nd is the central and southern portion of the seat. Currently, NV-2 encompasses all or part of the state’s 17 counties. The places going to other districts are largely areas where Ms. Angle did not perform as strongly.

Sharron Angle choosing not to participate in the special election is a sound political decision from her perspective. Should she decide to run in the regular election, which is likely, she can continue to amass campaign resources – her ability to do so is an advantage over every other candidate – and can challenge a short-term incumbent, either Republican or Democrat, in a new district that will likely be more to her liking particularly in the GOP primary.

The 2nd district political saga may prove to be the “great unknown” of the 2011-12 election cycle. What we can expect, however, is non-stop political action from here all the way to the next regular general election.
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The Angle-less Special Election in Nevada’s 2nd

Nevada's congressional districts. The 2nd extends north over the entire remainder of the state.

Sharron Angle, the Tea Party-backed conservative who upset the Republican establishment with her GOP Senatorial primary win last year, abruptly announced that she will not file as a candidate for the Sept. 13 special congressional election in Nevada’s 2nd district. Expressing displeasure toward the electoral system chosen for the early fall vote, Angle said the technical procedures are “…an illegitimate process that disenfranchises the electorate.”

Originally, Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller ruled that the special election would be open to all, and decided in just one voting contest. Termed a “ballot royal,” Miller copied the system used in Hawaii that features no nomination process. All candidates would have equal access to the special general ballot and the person receiving the most votes, regardless of percentage, wins the seat.

Miller made this ruling for several reasons. Primarily, it is the system that best gives his Democratic Party a chance of capturing the seat. Angle would have been strong within this format because of her solid political base, but so would a unified Democratic Party solidifying behind one candidate. If the Republicans split their votes among several contenders, the analysis showed, the Democrats, limiting their candidates to just state Treasurer Kate Marshall, could successfully steal the Republican-leaning seat.

Republicans objected to Miller’s dictate, saying he wrongly interpreted state election law. The parties themselves, the GOP argued, should be allowed to choose their nominees in caucus, similar to New York’s law, and have just two major party candidates on the ballot. Last week, a lower court judge ruled in favor of the GOP lawsuit saying that Miller’s decision was “unreasonable and absurd.” The Secretary of State and the Democratic Party are appealing to the state Supreme Court.

Candidates were originally to have filed earlier in the week (May 25th), but the judicial ruling forced Miller to extend the candidate declaration deadline all the way through June 30th. The state high court will likely make a ruling before the deadline expires.

It is obvious that Angle believes the Supreme Court will uphold the lower court ruling and allow the state party central committees to choose the special election nominees. She also knows she is not the choice of the Nevada Republican establishment. In her statement, Ms. Angle said she would consider running for public office again and did not eliminate the possibility of competing for the 2nd district in the regular cycle.

Though NV-2 will have a new incumbent before the 2012 general election, it is likely the new 2nd will be more to Angle’s liking. The current configuration in the three-seat state map allows the 2nd to touch all of Nevada’s 17 counties including dominant Clark, home to the city of Las Vegas.

Though the state’s new four-seat congressional map is in limbo today, the basic design seems clear. The Democratic legislature passed a map that had a similar look to the Republicans’ draw, but a far different partisan complexion and it led to a Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) veto. Though further effort was made up until legislative adjournment, the map will end up in court and judges will develop the final blueprint. Since the legislative intent clearly makes two Las Vegas city districts, one rural Clark County seat that stretches to the central part of the state, and a final district, the 2nd, that contains only the northern half of the state with its population anchors of Reno and Carson City, such will likely be the final map’s basis. In the two Democratic maps and one Republican, each used this same fundamental design.

This version will play right into Angle’s hands and may be what’s driving her decision to sit out the special election. Though she will face an incumbent in either the 2012 primary or the general vote, the district will be much different than the one electing the new congressman. So, it is very possible Ms. Angle will come roaring back in the regular cycle.

Republicans should win the seat, but after their party’s recent debacle in the NY-26 special election, it’s clear that anything can happen in these low turnout, irregular electoral contests.
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Bowen Concedes in Calif.; Surprise Ruling in Nevada; Hirono for Senate in Hawaii

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen (D) conceded her fate yesterday in the special congressional election, offering her congratulations to Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn (D) and businessman Craig Huey (R) for advancing to the general election. Hahn placed first and clinched position No. 1 for the July 12 special general, but the second and final slot was in doubt as absentee ballot counting continued. Huey surprised everyone by nipping Bowen by just over 200 votes on election night, but more than 10,000 absentee ballots had not been tabulated. Once the post-election counting began, and Huey actually increased his margin over Bowen to more than 700 votes, the Secretary of State announced her concession.

This is a surprise result. Most believed that Hahn and Bowen would advance to the special general and be in a close contest. Under California’s new election law, as approved by voters in a 2010 ballot initiative, the top two vote-getters, regardless of political party affiliation, advance to the general election.

The 36th congressional special election — held after Rep. Jane Harman (D) resigned to accept a position with an international relations think tank — was the first test of the new election law in a federal campaign. But even under this new structure, a Democrat and a Republican will face each other in a one-on-one general election. Because of the heavy Democratic nature of this district, Councilwoman Hahn, previously defeated for this congressional seat in 1998 and then later for lieutenant governor, becomes the prohibitive favorite to win in July.

Nevada’s 2nd:

A Nevada state judge yesterday sided with a state Republican Party legal motion and over-turned Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller’s directive that the Sept. 13 special election in the 2nd congressional district be held in an open jungle ballot format. The judge accepted the GOP argument that the respective state parties have the power to nominate their own standard bearers in a special election. The Democrats will likely appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court, a panel more likely to be favorable toward their position. The action was a bit of a surprise because the judge removed the people’s’ ability to choose candidates and put it in the hands of the state political party organizations. Under the ruling, the parties would have until June 30th to nominate their candidates. The original filing deadline for the jungle, winner-take-all, election was May 25th.

The ruling will have a great effect upon 2010 GOP Senatorial nominee Sharron Angle who has a strong chance of winning in the jungle election format, but is unlikely to secure the Republican nomination from a panel of state party officials. Democrats believe the jungle ballot approach favors them if they can unite behind one strong candidate and the Republicans remain split. So far, though, more than one strong Democrat is in the race. Much more will happen, and quickly, to finally determine how this election will be conducted.

Hawaii Senate

Across the Pacific Ocean in the 50th state of Hawaii, two-term Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI-2) announced that she will run for the Senate next year. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) is retiring. Hirono has high approval ratings and will certainly be a strong candidate in both the Democratic primary and general elections. In fact, a new Ward Research poll (May 4-10; 614 registered Hawaii voters) shows Hirono in the strongest position of any Democrat if former Gov. Linda Lingle becomes the Republican nominee. Hirono would defeat Lingle 57-35 percent according to the data. Former Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2) is already a Senatorial candidate. Other potential Democratic contenders are Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (HI-1), ex-Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz. Because Lingle loses to all of the aforementioned in hypothetical pairings, the Democrats are the early favorites to hold the open seat in next year’s general election.
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Does Nevada Have the Right Angle in NV-2?

While the NY-26 special election has taken an interesting turn since Democrats might be on the doorstep of positioning themselves for an upset win on May 24, the NV-2 vacancy seems to be flowing in the opposite direction.

Last week, despite the contention from Nevada Republican Party officials that the state parties would choose nominees for the Sept. 13 special election to fill the unexpired portion of now-Sen. Dean Heller’s (R) current term in the House, Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller ruled that a jungle-ballot format would take precedence. This means anyone can run for the seat regardless of political party affiliation and, like in the Hawaii special election of 2010, the person obtaining the most votes in the one election, regardless of percentage, is elected. Such a format favors the candidate with the strongest base and plays against a particular party that may field two or more viable candidates.

Miller’s ruling was savvy on at least two points. First, he, as a potential aspirant for future higher office himself, scores points with the Democratic establishment because this is the best possible format for his party to steal what should be a reliable Republican seat. Second, even if the Republicans were to file suit against him, a court would be in a difficult position to rule against a Secretary of State who merely opened up the process equally to everyone, thus his decision is also legally secure.

It was originally believed that the Democrats had a legitimate shot in the jungle format because controversial 2010 GOP Senatorial nominee Sharron Angle would be in the field of candidates, since she had already announced for the seat in the regular election. Before Sen. John Ensign (R) resigned and Rep. Heller was appointed to replace him, the congressman had made known his intention to run for the Senate in the regular 2012 election. Angle barely lost the 2006 congressional nomination to Heller (by 421 votes) the last time the seat was open.

It was also conventional wisdom that Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R) would hop into the congressional race. His strong presence would split the GOP vote and allow a consensus Democrat, presumably state Treasurer Kate Marshall, to slip by the split Republicans and win the seat with a plurality of the vote.

It appears now, however, that the tables have turned. While Angle did enter the special election contest, Krolicki backed away. State Republican Party chairman Mark Amodei, a former state legislator who briefly ran for the Senate in 2010 only to withdraw because he lacked funding, is now in the congressional race. But, so far, the only two other Republicans to declare candidacy are state Sen. Greg Brower and former US Navy officer Kirk Lippold, both of whom have small constituencies.

Amodei, coming from the more moderate wing of the party, could become the main alternative to Angle but none of the Republicans have as strong a political base, both financially and vote-based, as the former Senatorial nominee. Aside from barely losing the GOP primary to Heller in 2006, Ms. Angle actually carried the 2nd district, even against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in the 2010 general election. So, it is clear that this north/central Nevada region constitutes her main base of support.

Now, the Democrats have a potentially split field. While Treasurer Marshall, who most believe is the party’s strongest candidate, announced her candidacy, so did Jill Derby, the former state Democratic Party chair, university regent, and congressional nominee in both 2006 and ’08. Derby, too, has a base in the district. She held Heller to a respectable 45-50 percent winning percentage in ’06, but fell to 41-52 percent in the re-match. It is conceivable that she will take a significant percentage in the special election, votes that will more than likely come right from Marshall’s political hide. Additionally, former university regent and 2010 Democratic congressional nominee Nancy Price is also running again. Though she lost to Heller in a landslide 33-63% vote, she has the potential of snatching a few more votes from Marshall.

While two weeks ago it looked liked the Democrats were in an enviable special election position, the most recent events seem to be unfolding in Angle’s favor. Much more will happen before the May 25 filing deadline to better define the special election parameters. We will then see if the Democrats can fully coalesce behind Marshall, thus restoring what originally appeared to be a reasonable chance at victory.
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The Ins and Outs of Candidates

A snapshot look at who’s in and who’s out:

IN
Indiana – Donnelly:
Authoritative reports say that Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2) will announce his candidacy for the United States Senate today. The move does not come as a surprise, since the new redistricting map gives Donnelly a very marginal congressional seat. Because he won by only a single percentage point in the last election (48-47 percent) in a better district for him, Mr. Donnelly’s decision to run statewide became predictable.

Donnelly will face Sen. Richard Lugar (R) who, at 79 years old, is running for a seventh six-year term. The congressman is banking on the fact that Lugar may have trouble in the Republican primary as the veteran senator has seemingly gone out of his way to alienate the Tea Party wing of the GOP electorate. Already, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock is challenging Mr. Lugar for the party nomination, but the challenger’s lackluster fundraising so far seems to diminish what were higher expectations for an upset. Even if the Lugar primary contest becomes moderately close, Donnelly may be the beneficiary. Though Sen. Lugar is rated as the favorite for both the primary and general election – he didn’t even draw a Democratic opponent in 2006 – this will likely be a competitive race all the way through the November general election.

Turning to the House, Republicans would begin as slight favorites to capture Donnelly’s vacated IN-2 district, particularly when considering the recent re-draw that was just enacted into law. Still, Pres. Barack Obama received 49 percent of the vote under the new boundaries so, despite being eight points better for Republicans, the 2nd is marginal in nature and both parties can win here. Former state Rep. Jackie Walorski (R), who held Donnelly to the one-point victory in 2010, has already said she will run again. Walorski must be considered the early favorite to convert this seat for the Republicans.

OUT
Nevada – Krolicki:
Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R), who most believed would enter the special congressional election to replace now-Sen. Dean Heller (R), announced that he will not run. Krolicki entering the race would have set up a tough jungle-ballot campaign with 2010 Senatorial nominee Sharron Angle (R) and at least one Democrat, state Treasurer Kate Marshall.

Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller (D) ruled last week that the jungle-ballot system, where all candidates compete with each other and the person garnering the most votes, regardless of percentage, is elected outright, will be utilized for the Sept. 13 special election. With Angle, Krolicki, and possibly several others diluting the Republican vote, it is was judged that the Democrats, in the person of Marshall, could slip through and steal what should be a Republican seat in the jungle format. Without Krolicki competing, Angle now stands a better chance of finishing first, but in a multi-candidate race anything can still happen. The special election will be conducted in the current NV-2, drawn in the 2001 redistricting plan, but the 2012 full-term battle will be held in what is likely to be a vastly different 2nd district.

Michigan – Land: Former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land said over the weekend that she will not challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) next year. Despite Stabenow being viewed as vulnerable, though recent polling places her in an improved position against potential GOP candidates, no strong Republican has yet to come forth to declare a Senate candidacy. Ex-Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI-2), who placed second in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary and was polling best against Sen. Stabenow, took himself out of consideration two weeks ago.

It is unlikely any member of the congressional delegation will run, though Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI-11) now seems to be the most logical congressman to consider a Senate race. Deciding not to seek re-election as House Republican Policy Chairman after two terms, McCotter would have a largely unencumbered opportunity to run statewide in 2012.
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Nevada: A Potential GOP Quagmire

Nevada's congressional districts.

Though it appears that Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) is the obvious choice to replace outgoing Sen. John Ensign (R), who will resign May 3rd, the selection will ignite a series of moves that could be troubling for Silver State Republicans. Heller, a three-term congressman from the rural district – Nevada currently has three CDs, two in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, and one, NV-2, that touches a corner of Clark County (Las Vegas) and encompasses the rest of the state – is already the consensus Senatorial candidate for the party to maintain the swing-state Senate seat in 2012.

But, it is Heller’s House seat that could become problematic for the GOP if the congressman immediately replaces Sen. Ensign. Under Nevada law, the state party central committees choose nominees in the event of vacancies, and not the electorate through a direct primary vote. The law, however, is a bit sketchy. It does allow for independents to qualify for the ballot in addition to the major party nominees, and Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller says he will decide the particulars of gaining ballot access. Miller himself could become a candidate for a different office in 2012, too. He was considering the Senate race, but deferred to Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), once she announced for the seat. Running for the US House, however, is a possibility for him because Nevada will have at least two open seats next year. So, it is conceivable his rulings for this special election could in some way affect his own short-term political plans.

Redistricting is yet another factor in this complicated situation. Because Nevada gains a new 4th district from reapportionment, the 2nd district will drastically change. Since the current Clark County population figure is only about 20,000 people short of qualifying for three complete CD’s, it is probable that none of the Vegas area will be in the new 2nd. But, the special general election will be run in the current 2nd, which does include a section of the metro area. Democrats control the legislature and will draw the initial congressional map, but Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, will have veto power over whatever is eventually sent him. If the two sides deadlock, then a court will draw the new congressional and legislative maps. Should the process find its way to federal court, the most liberal 9th Circuit of the Federal District Courts will come into play, as Nevada sits in that particular region. Therefore, even eventual court action is unclear.

Already, Sharron Angle, the controversial 2010 US Senate nominee who lost to Majority Leader Harry Reid 44-50 percent, has announced that she will run for the 2nd congressional district in the regular 2012 election. Back in 2006, Mrs. Angle, then a state assemblywoman, lost the Republican congressional nomination to Heller by just 421 votes. She will not be chosen as the Republican nominee in the special election by the party structure, and Secretary of State Miller’s ballot access rulings could factor prominently into her decision as to whether or not to seek the seat in the special election. Ideally, from a Democratic Party perspective, Miller will want to make it easy for Angle to enter the race. She will be a strong Independent candidate and could split the vote to the Democratic nominee’s advantage.

Democrats looking at the political picture here will certainly want to do what they can to encourage an Angle candidacy, hoping for a similar result as what happened in the Senate race. It is important to note, however, that Angle did beat Sen. Reid in the 2nd district portion of the state, which is a sobering fact for Democratic partisans thinking they can take advantage of a fractured 2nd district GOP and steal a victory. With Democratic control in the legislature, however, the party leadership could definitely draw a new 2nd district that would help Angle win a GOP primary, especially if another Republican wins the special election, thus throwing the seat into further chaos in the 2012 regular campaign.

Events will begin to unfold quickly after Ensign officially leaves office and Heller secures the Senatorial appointment.

No matter what eventually happens here, many twists and turns can be expected before the final votes are cast.
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Calif. Special Election Called; Ron Klein, Dean Heller In

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has called the special election to replace former Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA-36) who resigned at the end of February. The “jungle” primary will be held on May 17 with the general election, if necessary, on July 12. This will be the first test of California’s new election law that allows members of the same party to square-off in a general election. Before, the top vote-getter from each party qualified for the main election. In a special vote, a run-off election is only required if no candidate receives an absolute majority.

In the CA-36 situation, the run-off is a virtual certainty. The two top Democrats, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn and Secretary of State Debra Bowen, are the favorites to qualify for the special general. Republicans are fielding several candidates, but Hahn and Bowen have the name familiarity to punch through a crowded field. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic, so it would be surprising to see anyone but the two most well-known Dems qualify for the run-off election. The nation’s other special congressional election, with nominees chosen by party caucus, is in NY-26, and will be held May 24. Republicans, in the person of Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, are likely to hold this position.

In Florida, it appears that defeated Rep. Ron Klein (D-FL-22) will not seek a re-match with Rep. Allen West (R), as reports are surfacing that Klein will soon announce the acceptance of a lobbying firm position. Klein was first elected in 2006, defeating then-Rep. E. Clay Shaw (R). He was subsequently re-elected in 2008, beating West, but went down 46-54% in the re-match. This south Florida district will be drastically reconfigured in redistricting. The GOP map drawers will need to give West an influx of Republicans since his seat is marginal. It is the only congressional district held by a Republican in both 2004 and 2000, in which President George W. Bush did not perform better. It’s long, craggy north to south design from West Palm Beach into greater Broward County will likely be re-set into a more traditional layout.

In Nevada, Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) made official his plan to run for Sen. John Ensign’s (R) open seat. Heller will be the favorite for the Republican nomination. No Democrat has yet stepped forward to announce his or her candidacy, but Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) says she will make her decision about a Senate race by early summer. Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller are waiting for the congresswoman to make a decision, but could find themselves entering the race. With Nevada becoming an ever more marginal state and Pres. Obama on the general election ballot in a place he carried 55-43% in 2008, the eventual Democratic nominee will be highly competitive.

Heller vacating the 2nd district, currently a decidedly Republican district that touches all 17 of the state’s counties, will mean a free-for-all occurs in the succeeding primary. Already GOP state chairman Mark Amodei, a former state senator who briefly ran for US Senate in early 2010 before dropping out, says he will run for Congress. Sharron Angle, who became the GOP Senatorial nominee against Majority Leader Harry Reid because of strong Tea Party support, could run here, or against Heller statewide. Angle lost a close congressional primary to Heller back in 2006 before running for Senate in 2010. Depending upon the shape of the re-draw, former Rep. Jon Porter (R-NV-3) is also someone who could jump into such a crowded primary with the ability to do well.

Democrats could find themselves in a similar position if Berkley vacates the safe, Las Vegas-based 1st district. Expect a major Democratic primary there if she decides to run statewide, which could be one reason Masto and Miller are both waiting to see what she does. If districts 1 and 2 are open, and with the state gaining a 4th district, Nevada could see three open seat congressional campaigns next year. Adding the fact that Rep. Joe Heck’s (R) 3rd district already has over 1 million inhabitants, the entire Nevada congressional map could easily be re-crafted.

The Silver State is very important in national redistricting and could become even more if the multiple vacancies actually occur.
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Senate Contests Already Taking Shape

With announcements from senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and John Ensign (R-NV) earlier this week that they will retire at the end of the current term, becoming the seventh and eighth such in-cycle senators to do so, it’s time to re-cap who is jockeying for position to succeed all the outgoing incumbents.

Arizona: (Sen. Jon Kyl) – Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) is an announced Senatorial candidate. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-2) is considering running, as is ex-Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ-1). For the Democrats, Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ-4) says he is looking at the race, but has taken no action to begin assembling a campaign as yet. Not much movement yet for the Dems, but they will have a credible nominee and this will likely become a competitive campaign.

Connecticut: (Sen. Joe Lieberman) – Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) is an announced candidate and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (D) will challenge him in the primary. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT-2), after considering the race, says he will seek re-election. Republican 2008 nominee Linda McMahon is considering running, but the Ds have the inside track in what is a reliable state for them.

Hawaii: (Sen. Daniel Akaka) – Democrats are looking at a crowded field, as this is the first open Senate seat there since 1976. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1) and Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI-2) are potential candidates. Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz and former Honolulu mayor and defeated gubernatorial candidate Mufi Hannemann are other possibilities, as is ex-Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2). Republicans have two potential candidates in former Gov. Linda Lingle, who is likely to run, and ex-Rep. Charles Djou (R-HI-1). Some Democrats are urging Akaka to resign before the term ends and allow Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) to appoint a replacement, thus avoiding what could become a difficult and nasty Democratic primary late in September of 2012. Akaka, however, has given no signal that he favors such an idea. Much action will occur here in the coming months.

Nevada: (Sen. John Ensign) – Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) is the key person here. It is expected that he will soon enter the race. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and 2010 Senatorial nominee Sharron Angle are also making statements of interest, but both could also run for Heller’s open House seat if he does in fact vacate. The Republicans will need a clean primary to win in what is becoming a very marginal state for them. Democrats have several options. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) says she will decide over the summer as to what she will do. Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is a likely candidate. Secretary of State Ross Miller is expressing interest but says he wants to see what Berkley will do first before he makes a final decision. Should she run statewide, Miller could become a candidate for what will likely be her open safe Democratic House seat. This race will be in the toss-up category all the way to election day.

New Mexico: (Sen. Jeff Bingaman) – Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1) is officially a Republican candidate. Lt. Gov. John Sanchez (R) is making noises that he might run, setting up the same type of toxic primary that defeated Wilson in 2006 and gave Sen. Tom Udall (D) an easy run in the general election. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM-2), the man who defeated Wilson for that nomination and came back to re-claim his House seat against an incumbent in 2010, hasn’t ruled out another Senatorial run, but he’s likely to seek re-election instead. Democratic state Auditor Hector Balderas is virtually certain to run. Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM-1) is a potential candidate. Should Wilson win the primary, this could become a competitive race.

North Dakota: (Sen. Kent Conrad) – Republicans are poised to convert this open seat, just as they did in 2010 with Sen. John Hoeven. The GOP has multiple options, including freshman at-large Rep. Rick Berg, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, and Public Utilities Commissioner Brian Kalk, among others. Democrats have a weak bench and are unlikely to field a top tier candidate.

Texas: (Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison) – Texas will feature a crowded Republican primary and a sure run-off. In the race are recently resigned Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, and Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, along with former Secretary of State Roger Williams and former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is expected to run but will likely announce after the legislative session concludes in June. Democrats have already coalesced around former state Comptroller John Sharp, who has lost his last two statewide races, to current Gov. Rick Perry and Dewhurst, both for Lt. Governor. Republicans have the inside track to holding the seat regardless of who eventually becomes their nominee.

Virginia: (Sen. Jim Webb) – All eyes are on former Gov. Tim Kaine, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Clearly a person who could become the party’s consensus candidate, Kaine has still not made any announcement and reportedly is truly undecided about running. The more time elapses, the less likely it becomes that Kaine will become a candidate. Defeated Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA-5) is someone to whom the Democrats will likely turn without Kaine in the field. Former Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA-9) is being mentioned as a potential contender, but he’s unlikely to run. Former Sen. and Gov. George Allen, the man Webb unseated in 2006, is back for another run and should easily capture the Republican nomination. Allen’s numbers are still relatively weak, as he ties Kaine in early polling and leads the others by only small, single-digit margins. This will be another tough Senatorial contest.

To secure a new majority in 2012, Republicans will have to convert at least two of these aforementioned seats and hold all of the ones they are risking. The GOP needs a minimum switch of four net seats to return to majority status. Democrats must defend 23 of the 33 in-cycle races.
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Ensign Out in Nevada; What’s Next?

In a story many believed to be inevitable, scandal-tainted Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) announced that he will not seek re-election next year.

Embroiled in an extra-marital affair with his former chief of staff’s wife, Ensign could never rebound from the extensive negative publicity even though he was actively attempting to prepare for a 2012 campaign. Polling showed Ensign faring poorly in both the Republican primary and the general election. It was clear that the senator’s road to re-election was a rocky one, making him a decided underdog to win either election.

Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2), commonly viewed as the GOP’s best candidate-in-waiting, is expected to soon announce his senatorial bid. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki is another potential Republican candidate. Democrats also have a good bench in the state, as they control four statewide constitutional offices. Their most likely candidates are Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), who originally said she would decide whether to run for the Senate by the middle of last month, now says she will do so by summer. Ms. Berkley says the Ensign announcement is not a factor is her decision to run statewide or for re-election.

This will be a tough race for both sides. Nevada is now a swing state, but Pres. Obama ran well here in 2008, defeating John McCain 55-42%. Obama will again be on the ballot in 2012, which will undoubtedly boost the Democratic turnout model. Republicans rebounded nicely in 2010, though failed to defeat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They did win a convincing victory for governor after ousting their own incumbent in the GOP primary. The new open Senate race begins as a toss-up. Ensign is the eighth senator to announce retirement, already a quarter of the in-cycle members standing for election next year.
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Another Tough Nevada Senate Race

Sen. John Ensign

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), embattled because of a sex scandal involving the wife of a former staff member, admits he faces a “very, very difficult re-election,” but the two-term incumbent says he’s in the race to stay. Meanwhile, fellow Republican Dean Heller, the 2nd district congressman whose district touches all of Nevada’s 17 counties, confirms he is considering challenging Ensign in next year’s GOP primary. As you will remember, the 2010 Nevada Senate race was one of the most contentious in the country as Majority Leader Harry Reid eventually defeated Tea Party-backed Sharron Angle by five points, but the race lasted virtually two years.

Democrats are clearly in a position to take advantage of the Republicans’ problems and will field a strong candidate; 1st District Rep. Shelley Berkley says she will announce whether or not she will launch a Senate bid in mid-February. Other possibilities are Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller.

For his part, Ensign says he’s “not worried” about a possible Heller challenge but a new poll released this week suggests he should. Public Policy Polling surveyed 400 Nevada Republican primary voters over the Jan. 3-5 period and found that Heller would defeat Ensign 52-34%. While Nevada Republicans by and large still think Ensign is doing a good job in Washington (53:30% favorability score), the number saying he should run for re-election is only 42%, with 41% saying he should not. Heller has high name ID and positives, 63:12%, meaning 3/4 of the GOP electorate already know him. We will be hearing much more from this state in the coming two years, just as we have for the past two.
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