|Worried that they’ll have no one to challenge Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) next year, Nevada Democrats are turning to veteran politicians who have, so far, voiced zero interest in the race.|
Former state Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa and current state Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus are at the top of Democrats’ wish list, Marcia de Braga, the state party’s second vice chairperson, indicated yesterday.
|Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) could face veteran politicians in the next Senate race.|
Del Papa pulled out of a race against Ensign in 2000; Titus said yesterday that she would run for governor in 2006 “unless I’m hit by a bus.” Referring to Titus, de Braga said: “We’re hoping she’ll switch and run for Senate.”
Other Democratic officials, including Treasurer Deborah Trudell and Secretary Daniel Hinkley, said they knew of no Senate challengers. Both Trudell and Hinkley said Del Papa and Titus would be strong candidates.
Del Papa was unavailable for comment.
“There seems to be a reluctance to take on somebody who’s fairly well entrenched,” de Braga said of Ensign.
Jon Summers, spokesman for the state Democratic Party, wouldn’t confirm that party officials had approached either Titus or Del Papa but did say, “We’re talking to a number of viable candidates for a variety of seats.”
Summers also declined to say who is involved in the vetting process, adding simply that they are “senior members of the party, the standard people that get involved in these things.” He also noted that Democrats must find candidates to run in several races next year.
Because of term limits, every statewide office is up for grabs in 2006, meaning there are expected to be heated races for governor, secretary of state and attorney general. Also, Democrats hope to pick up seats in the state Assembly, and they say they remain optimistic about beating 3rd District Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.), in his second term.
It was unclear if Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is helping to recruit a Senate candidate. Summers referred that question to Reid’s office. Reid spokesman Jim Manley did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Ellen Pillard, the Sierra Club’s political director in northern Nevada and a Democratic activist, praised Reid for his “yeoman’s service” in building the party organization, especially in northern Nevada. But she said she was unaware of any recruiting efforts.
Some Republican officials in Washington have said privately that Reid will not help to recruit someone to run against Ensign because the two are friends. Ensign narrowly lost to Reid in a 1998 Senate race.
State Democratic officials said they expect that Reid would put his party above his friendship with Ensign. But de Braga acknowledged that the relationship between the two senators “may intimidate some people” in the Democratic fold from running.
“I think you’ll need Reid’s blessing to get anywhere,” de Braga said of Democrats mulling a Senate bid.
Asked if Nevada voters have a good reason to fire Ensign, Summers said: “Senator Reid and Senator Ensign have worked well together, but you know … we’re always out looking to see which Democrats we can get elected.”
One Democratic official said Yucca Mountain — and the administration’s plan to bury nuclear waste there — offers their candidates ammunition in 2006, although this issue did not put presidential nominee John Kerry (D-Mass.) over the top last year.
Summers added that it is early in the campaign cycle to be looking too closely at the Senate race.
But in other potentially competitive Senate contests in 2006 — West Virginia, Florida, North Dakota, Minnesota and Tennessee, for example — possible candidates already have begun sending signals that they are interested in either challenging an incumbent perceived as vulnerable or filling an open seat.
Ensign’s communications director, Jack Finn, said the senator would hire Mike Slanker’s firm, November Inc., for the 2006 campaign. Slanker ran Ensign’s 2000 campaign, Finn said. He added that the Republican is “going to raise money as if we are going to have a top-notch candidate, even though nobody’s on the horizon at this point.”
Ensign won his first Senate term with a 15-percentage-point margin.