Tag Archives: Brian Sandoval

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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Special Election Open to All in Nevada’s 2nd District

Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller (D), after conferring with legal personnel in Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto’s (D) office, ruled that the state’s special election law does not give exclusive candidate nomination authority to the state political central committees, as at least the Republican Party had contended. Rather, Miller said in a news conference yesterday, the process will be open to all potential candidates.

With Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) scheduling the NV-2 special election for Sept. 13 after appointing Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) to succeed Sen. John Ensign (R), who officially leaves office today, the Nevada congressional replacement system becomes similar to that of Hawaii – that is, all candidates will appear on the same ballot in one winner-take-all election. This will be the first special congressional election in Nevada’s history, hence the confusion over the law. The race will be conducted under the 2001 Nevada congressional map. The winner will serve what will be the final 15 months of the unexpired term in the current Congress.

The ruling has two clear winners. Sharron Angle, the 2010 GOP Senatorial nominee and former NV-2 candidate (who lost the 2006 GOP primary to Heller by 421 votes), will now likely run in the special election. It was clear that the state Republican Party would not have chosen her as the official party standard bearer, if they had the power to choose a nominee. The Democratic Party benefits under this ruling because coalescing Democratic votes around one strong candidate, like state Treasurer Kate Marshall, who confirms she is running, could allow them to steal the seat with a small plurality since majority Republicans are likely to split their votes among many candidates. This possibility is exacerbated with Angle in the race. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and state Republican chair Mark Amodei are other potential GOP candidates.

The Nevada Republican Party is threatening a lawsuit over Miller’s ruling, but it will be difficult for them to prevail in court. It is hard to see how a judge will overturn an administrative decision that opens an electoral process to all people. The filing period is scheduled for May 23-25. Miller says all legal challenges must be decided by July 15 for his office to have the necessary time to conduct the Sept. 13 election.
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Heller has Narrow Lead in Nevada

Public Policy Polling (April 21-24; 491 registered NV voters), surveying the Nevada electorate at the exact time Sen. John Ensign (R) announced he would resign his seat in early May, finds Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) leading fellow Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) 47-43 percent. Heller is the man most believe Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) will appoint to replace Ensign, thus providing him with incumbent status before the 2012 election. When answering whether the respondents would favor holding a special election to replace the senator or having Gov. Sandoval appoint an interim office holder as current law dictates, by a margin of 53-44 percent, the group prefers the election option.

The 4-point Heller lead over Berkley is a net 9-point improvement for the Democrats since the last PPP was conducted. In early January, Heller held a 51-38 percent edge over Berkley, who was, at that time, not an announced Senatorial candidate. The small 4-point edge is also a bit of a surprise when seeing both candidates’ favorability ratings. Heller scores a 43:29 percent favorable to unfavorable personal image response, while Berkley registers a less impressive 34:31 percent. Should Heller be appointed to the Senate, the polling data will undoubtedly change, perhaps drastically, over the course of the 17 months remaining before the next election, but it is unclear as to what extent. Therefore, we can again expect another very difficult Nevada campaign for both participants.
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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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Nevada Sen. Ensign to Resign; Heller Likely to be Appointed

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), rocked with a sex and blackmail scandal that made winning re-election impossible, announced that he will resign his seat effective May 3rd. This will give newly elected Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) the opportunity of appointing a successor to serve until the next regular election in November 2012. All indications suggest that Sandoval will appoint Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) as the interim senator. The congressman has already announced his intention to run for the open seat and has become the virtual consensus Republican candidate. Sandoval endorsed Heller for the seat long before it became known that Ensign would not serve the balance of his term.

Appointing Heller would give him incumbency advantage for the 17 months prior to the election. This will undoubtedly help him raise money; though, as a consensus candidate in a competitive U.S. Senate race, money would likely not have been an obstacle. One key difference, however: Upon appointment, Heller will be treated as an incumbent by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, thus making their involvement much easier than if the race happens to evolve into a contested primary. The party and institutional financial backing should give Heller an added boost in the general election as he will square-off with Las Vegas Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1). Last week Berkley made official her entry into the Senate race.

Nevada, the fastest growing U.S. state during the past decade (35 percent growth over the 10-year period; the national average was 9.7 percent) is a changing region. Previously, a place that leaned more Republican than Democrat, Nevada is now the quintessential swing state. While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was re-elected 50-45 percent in a very difficult campaign, Sandoval was simultaneously out-distancing Reid’s son, Rory, in the governor’s race, 53-42 percent. Freshman Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV-3) was also turned out of office by current Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV-3) in the seat that has become the most over-populated congressional district in the nation, housing over one million inhabitants. The strong growth rate awarded the state a new congressional seat, the third consecutive decade such as happened. In 2008, Pres. Obama carried the state over John McCain by a lopsided 55-43 percent mark. Four years earlier, then-President Bush outpaced John Kerry here 50-48 percent.

Thus, the stage is set for another close election, and an incumbency advantage for Heller could be just the impetus he needs to cross the political finish line first.

But, appointing Mr. Heller could cause further controversy at the U.S. House level. Heller actually vacating his congressional seat to finish Ensign’s term, means a special election will be held in NV-2 later this year. Sharron Angle, the Tea Party activist who won the GOP Senate nomination but came up short against Sen. Reid, has already announced that she will run for the open seat in 2012. A special election would hasten the political clock and she will undoubtedly enter the early contest, with a strong chance of winning a split primary. In 2006, when Heller was first elected, Angle only lost the Republican primary to him by 421 votes (39.5 – 39.3 percent). In a crowded field of candidates, which will likely occur, securing a base of +35 percent likely means winning the nomination, and she has previously done better in this very territory. The 2nd district touches a small part of Clark County (Las Vegas), and then occupies the rest of the state, including Angle’s power base of Washoe County (Reno).

In a way, the special election might actually hinder Angle’s chances of winning the primary. In a redrawn 2nd district, the seat will likely lose it’s Clark County portion, a place where Angle performed 11 percentage points under Heller in 2006. But, the special election will occur in the current 2nd district. Originally drawn as a safe Republican seat, the 2nd has become marginal. In fact, Heller only scored a 50-45 percent win over Nevada Democratic Party chair Jill Derby in ’06, followed with a closer-than-expected 52-41 percent victory two years later against the same opponent. Derby may again become a candidate, and could be strong in a special general election particularly if Angle wins the Republican nomination.

It appears evident that Nevadans are headed for another lively and potentially bitter election cycle yet again, and one that will almost assuredly begin early.
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