Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki's decision Thursday to stay out of the Sept. 13 special election to replace Rep. Dean Heller removes the presumed GOP front-runner from the open race and sets up a donnybrook among second-tier Republicans.
The lieutenant governor said he decided not to run for the upcoming House vacancy for family reasons -- he has three young daughters -- and because of his heavy workload in the Legislature and leading Nevada's economic development efforts.
"Although I am committed to continuing my public service to the people of Nevada and consider it absolutely critical to elect more conservatives to Congress, my family, my party and my responsibilities as lieutenant governor must come before this great opportunity," said Krolicki, who serves as president of the state Senate.
Krolicki was seen as the strongest potential GOP contender because he has won statewide office three times, including re-election last year. He has high name recognition and enjoys strong backing within the Republican Party.
With Krolicki out of the picture, maneuvering will grow more intense among a lengthening list of GOP contenders. The Democratic Party's chances also will increase for winning the 2nd Congressional District for the first time since its creation in 1982. The district covers all of Northern and rural Nevada, and the GOP has a 31,427 registered voter advantage over Democrats.
Nevada GOP Chairman Mark Amodei is expected to announce he is entering the House contest during a Monday news conference in Carson City. Amodei would battle state Sen. Greg Brower of Reno for establishment GOP support, while Sharron Angle woos her tea party backers and former USS Cole commander Kirk Lippold competes for the conservative vote. Ed Hamilton, a perennial candidate, is running as a Republican, and more also-rans are expected to jump in to siphon off votes.
The state GOP filed a lawsuit Thursday to try and prevent a free-for-all fray, challenging the special election rules set out by Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat. He said the ballot is open to all qualified major-party candidates, minor-party nominees and independents. The GOP contends the law requires major-party central committees to nominate one candidate each.
"This is a unique and new misinterpretation of Nevada's election laws. Anyone who nominates themselves can run," GOP attorney David O'Mara wrote in the lawsuit filed in Carson City District Court.
Former Gov. Robert List, a GOP committeeman, said he understood and respected Krolicki's decision not to run, yet he worried what would happen next, saying, "It's far from clear yet where all this is going to end up."
"If the court case is not successful, then it's going to be a Wild West rodeo," List said.
The Nevada Supreme Court isn't likely to reverse Miller's ruling, most observers and Heller himself said. He said he was never overruled on election matters when he was secretary of state for 12 years. Heller held the job when the untested special election law was passed in 2003 to fill House vacancies -- something Nevada has never had to do in its 147-year history.
The House vacancy starts after Heller is appointed Monday to finish resigning U.S. Sen. John Ensign's term.
Miller set May 23-25 for special election candidate filing. June 8 is his deadline to set a final ballot. He said legal challenges would have to be resolved by July 15, in time to send ballots overseas to members of the military and others.
State Treasurer Kate Marshall is the favored Democrat in the race. Nancy Price, who lost to Heller last year, said she's in the contest to stay although she has little money or support. Jill Derby, a former higher education leader who nearly beat Heller in 2006, said she's running. But Derby has been quiet since the rules were set.
Privately, Democrats are hoping to clear the field for Marshall in a race in which the top voter-getter wins. If Derby stays in, the former state party chair would be a strong competitor and could split the vote, hurting the party's chances.
Contact reporter Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919.