Tag Archives: Harry Reid

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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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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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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