Nevada GOP Chairman Mark Amodei on Monday became the fifth Republican to jump into the race to replace former Rep. Dean Heller, saying it was time to take the plunge into a Sept. 13 special election.
"For those folks who are in it, it's time to be in it," Amodei said at a news conference in Carson City.
Indeed, Amodei's entry into Nevada's unprecedented special House election signals the slate of serious major-party candidates might have gelled, although the filing period is May 23 through May 25. Minor-party nominees and unlimited independent candidates also are invited to engage in the contest under the wide-open ballot rules.
Amodei joins failed U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle, state Sen. Greg Brower of Reno and former USS Cole Commander Kirk Lippold as the leading announced GOP contenders. Ed Hamilton, a perennial candidate, also is running as a Republican, and it's expected that more also-rans will join the fray. No other major GOP contenders are expected to enter.
In the Democratic corner, State Treasurer Kate Marshall is the party favorite, but she will have competition from Nancy Price and Jill Derby, both former higher education regents who have lost to Heller before. Derby, a former state Democratic Party chairwoman, came close to defeating Heller in 2006 and has a constituency that could stick by her if she stays in the race.
Democrats see an opportunity to win the 2nd Congressional District, covering Northern and rural Nevada, for the first time, although they would have to coalesce behind one candidate and hope the GOP candidates divide the vote.
GOP leaders who fear a victory by a Democrat or Angle -- an outsider who enjoys a tea party following -- have sued Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat who set the free-for-all special election rules. Republicans contend that because there's no primary, the parties' central committees should nominate one candidate each.
Carson City District Court Judge James Todd Russell set a May 19 date to hear the lawsuit. Yet even GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval's proclamation setting the Sept. 13 date suggests Miller has the legal weight of his office behind him. The proclamation issued Monday says the rules should conform to "all applicable federal and state laws as interpreted by the secretary of state."
Sandoval appointed Heller to finish disgraced U.S. Sen. John Ensign's term. Heller was sworn in Monday.
Amodei, in announcing his House bid as widely expected, said he had the most legislative experience among the candidates. The former state senator represented Carson City for 14 years, including one two-year Assembly term.
"Mark Amodei has done the workhorse stuff, not the show horse stuff," he said, referring to himself in the third-person.
Amodei, 52, defended his introduction with a Democratic colleague of a $1 billion tax hike plan in 2003, saying it didn't include a controversial gross receipts tax on business. He later voted for a smaller $800 million tax package.
His backing taxes could hurt him with Republicans, yet could appeal to some cross-over conservative Democrats.
Brower has been burnishing his conservative credentials. He has backed Sandoval's promise not to raise taxes to balance the budget. And on Friday, he signed an Americans for Tax Reform pledge not to raise taxes.
"It is my pledge as a member of Congress I will not raise taxes on hardworking Americans," Brower said.
Both Angle and Lippold have been courting conservative Republicans, too.
Robert Uithoven, a GOP consultant, said candidates would be wise to run as if the special election were a primary because Republicans probably will vote for the GOP and Democrats probably will get behind their party, too, since the stakes are high.
He said money also will be a big factor. Brower has been locking up big donors, and Angle is a proven fundraiser.
"If you can't get on television in this campaign, you don't have a chance of winning," Uithoven said, guessing a strong campaign could cost up to $1 million. "And Angle still has a lot of rehabilitation to do if she stands a chance."
Amodei said he will resign as head of the state GOP by June 17, the day before the GOP central committee has scheduled a vote to replace him. GOP leaders also plan to nominate their preferred House candidate at the same meeting.
Review-Journal Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel contributed to this report. Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702 387-2919.