The news Republican Rep. Joe Heck could run for the now-open Nevada Senate seat has shifted the landscape in the Silver State.
Since Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced his retirement, Heck has said he is reconsidering his earlier declaration he would not get in the race. By all accounts, he would be one of the strongest candidates on the Republican side.
“I think a lot of people are waiting on Congressman Heck’s decision. If there is anyone in the field who could prevent a messy primary, it is probably Congressman Heck,” said Nevada Republican consultant Robert Uithoven.
Heck, a brigadier general in the Army Reserves, is well-respected among Nevada Republicans. He has had proven success winning in the competitive 3rd District, pulling off a 7-point victory in 2012, even as President Barack Obama won the swing territory by 1 percent. Heck would also start with a financial advantage, having finished the first quarter with $920,000 in his campaign account.
The Republican field has been slow to develop, in part because the focus has been on the legislative session. Operatives expect the race will heat up in June, once the Legislature wraps up.
There is one Republican already in the race — Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Beers — but sources said he is not expected to be a factor.
And multiple sources suggested Heck could clear the field if he jumps in.
For starters, state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson would likely run for Heck’s highly competitive House seat instead of the Senate, a Nevada Republican said.
Other sources said they would expect former state Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert, who served as Gov. Brian Sandoval’s chief of staff, to defer to Heck if he enters the race.
One-time possible candidate Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison has told confidantes he won’t run, and Republican Sen. Dean Heller told CQ Roll Call Hutchison is “not interested,” in the seat.
Former Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki had also previously expressed interest, but Nevada Republicans said he would not be a serious contender.
“A lot of these guys are teammates and trying to do what’s best for the state, and I can’t imagine they’d want to waste any time and energy trying to run against each other,” said Republican election attorney Daniel Stewart.
Heck has managed to stay on the good side of the more conservative wing of the Republican Party, which could help him fend off a serious primary challenge from the right. Republicans hope to avoid the situation they faced in 2010, when a crowded, messy primary resulted in the nomination of Sharron Angle, a flawed and gaffe-prone candidate who lost what was seen as a winnable race against Reid.
Heck would be “one of the few candidates who would be able to unite a conservative and moderate base,” even though there certainly would be some kind of challenge from the right, said Nevada Republican consultant Zac Moyle.
One wildcard is Sandoval, who would be the dream candidate for the GOP. He’s made no moves to suggest interest in a bid, but because he has not officially closed the door, Republicans said he retains right of first refusal.
“The governor hasn’t said no, so I believe that everybody will wait ’til the governor makes his decision,” Heller said.
When and if Sandoval passes, Heck would be the “go-to guy,” Heller added.
Democrats already have one candidate in the race — former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who jumped in with the endorsements of Reid and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Another Democrat , Rep. Dina Titus, has said she is considering it.
It’s expected to be among the most competitive races next fall, and the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates it a Tossup .
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