Carter brings famous name to the Nevada Senate race

President Carter’s eldest son, Jack, is fueling hopes that Democrats can knock off first-termer Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) next year.

President Carter’s eldest son, Jack, is fueling hopes that Democrats can knock off first-termer Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) next year.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who is friends with Ensign, is one of many Democrats backing Carter’s possible candidacy.

It will be an uphill battle for Carter. Nevada twice backed his father’s opponents, in 1976 and 1980, and Ensign enters the race with $2.1 million in the bank.

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Jack Carter


“Carter’s biggest challenge would be overcoming Ensign’s money,” said Dan Hinkley, the Nevada Democratic Party secretary.

Carter insists he is still on a “listening tour,” but Nevada Democratic sources said it is no longer a question of if Carter runs but of when he gets into the race.

“He did tell me that he is pretty sure he is doing it, and that he has moved past the [thinking] stage,” said Hinkley, who talked to Carter at a Clark County Democratic Party fundraiser Saturday.

Carter declined to comment on his race except to say: “If I say something now, it will be brought up 10 months from now.” He said he is cobbling together a fundraising team.

Carter added that he was moved to run by President Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

Many Nevada Democrats say Carter’s chances of success will hinge, in large part, on Reid’s help. Earlier this year, some Democrats questioned Reid’s enthusiasm about recruiting a challenger to take on his colleague, the junior senator.

“Of course I will support the campaign,” Reid told The Hill. “I like him. I love his father.”

Reid and Ensign enjoy a good working relationship, said Reid spokeswoman Tessa Hafen. “They also understand that they are members of opposite parties.”

Members of Reid’s staff have met several times with Carter, as have some of Reid’s fundraisers, Hinkley said.

Carter moved in 2002 to Nevada, where he and his wife, Elizabeth, run Carter Global, an investment-consulting firm. Before moving to the state, the couple lived in Bermuda.

Carter briefly ran in 1980 for a House seat but pulled out. Besides that, he has no experience as a candidate.

In Nevada, he has been an active party member, Nevada Democratic Party spokeswoman Kristin Searer said.

Like his father, Carter is a Navy veteran. Unlike the former president, he was discharged in 1970 for drug use. Last year, he campaigned for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in Nevada; Kerry lost the state.

Not surprisingly, members of his father’s administration support his candidacy.

“He is [a] very impressive, responsible and publicly spirited person, who I think would make an excellent senator,” former Vice President Walter Mondale said. Mondale first met Jack Carter during the 1976 campaign, when Carter was in his 20s.

“He was around his father through all the campaigns,” Mondale added. “I remember working the campaigns with him and being very impressed by him.”

Jody Powell, the elder Carter’s press secretary during his years as Georgia governor and president, said the younger Carter, unlike his sister, Amy, had escaped the scrutiny of the White House press corps.

Jack Carter avoided the media lens so scrupulously, it appears, that Ensign, like many Democrats and Republicans in Washington, was unaware of him. “Like most people, we did not know [he] had a son,” Ensign said. “We all knew about Amy.”

Brian Nick, the spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), said Jack Carter offers little except a famous last name.

Ben Tulchin, a Democratic pollster at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, said Carter could benefit from Nevada’s huge influx of newcomers, which includes a large Hispanic community. Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in the country. Democrats in recent cycles have voiced hopes of defeating Republican Rep. Jon Porter in the marginally GOP 3rd District.

Tulchin added that President Carter’s standing in Southwestern states is better than that of President Clinton.