Sen. John Ensign's (R-Nev.) decision to resign his seat, effective early next month, paves the way for Nevada's governor to elevate Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) to his soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat.
Many think the move will give Heller a leg up in the 2012 Senate race against Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), but it stands to complicate the calculus of another well-known Nevada Republican — Sharron Angle.
The party's failed 2010 Senate nominee against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is seeking a House seat in 2012, but a special election to fill Heller's 2nd district seat could present a major challenge for Angle. Under state law, it appears that candidates for the special election would be selected by the state party committees rather than through a primary.
That process would likely leave Angle on the outs given that she's not exactly a favorite of party insiders. Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R) also wants the seat and Nevada
Republicans view him as a much more electable choice. State GOP Chairman Mark Amodei would also be in the mix.
According to one
GOP insider in Nevada, "That's not even a contest. They won't pick
Late Thursday, state elections officials in Nevada said it still wasn't entirely clear whether the statute precluded a primary in the case of a special election, but one local Nevada Republican told The Ballot Box the initial expectation was that the state's central committee would be tasked with picking the nominee.
Aside from Nevada's internal GOP politics, a national Republican strategist points out another compelling reason for party insiders to shun Angle: The special election to fill Heller's House seat will be a nationalized contest that will likely serve as a 2012 preview and highlight the current messaging battle over Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) proposed budget.
It does leave open the question of what Angle would do if rejected by party insiders in the state. One Democrat speculated Thursday that she could opt for an independent bid in 2012, which could leave an opening for a Democratic candidate in an otherwise GOP-friendly district.
As for the timing, should Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) appoint Heller to the Senate, he has 180 days to call a special election to fill the Republican's House seat.