Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki won’t run for U.S. Senate

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki said Thursday he won’t join the “Republican scrum” of primary candidates competing for the chance to face Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, a decision that keeps him out of a rough-and-tumble contest sure to leave the winner bruised and broke.

The crowded GOP field has no clear front-runner. Krolicki refused to endorse any candidate, saying that a leader would emerge by the June 8 primary and that he was certain the victorious Republican could defeat Reid, the Senate majority leader, who is seeking a fifth term.

“We’ll just wait and see who rises to the top and gives us the kind of senator that Nevada deserves,” Krolicki said in a call with reporters in which he announced he would run for re-election instead of in the Senate race — “what I call the Republican scrum because of all the good folks.”

Front-runners in the GOP political rugby match are former state Sen. Sue Lowden, businessman and former UNLV basketball player Danny Tarkanian and former Reno Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, all of whom lead Reid in early polls. Lowden and Tarkanian are in a dead heat.

John Chachas, an Ely native and investment banker returning to Nevada to mount a largely self-financed campaign, also is a potential threat in the race and played a role in Krolicki’s decision.

The man running Chachas’ campaign, Ryan Erwin, said he couldn’t help Krolicki if he ran for the Senate, and the lieutenant governor said this was a factor in his decision not to seek higher office. Also, Krolicki said many vital GOP grass-roots organizers already had signed on to other campaigns.

State Sen. Mark Amodei of Carson City and another half dozen largely unknown candidates also are in the GOP primary. At least two others are flirting with jumping in: Las Vegas Assemblyman Chad Christensen and retired Navy Cmdr. Kirk S. Lippold, commanding officer of the USS Cole when it was attacked in 2000 in an al-Qaida suicide bombing in Yemen.

Former radio host Mike Wiley on Thursday dropped his Republican primary campaign to challenge Reid.

The crowded Republican field is a sign of how vulnerable Reid is, but it also shows GOP divisions and a lack of an organized effort to ensure a strong candidate emerges from the primary, said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Some Republicans “argue that this open dialogue will be good for the party, but if the primary gets ugly, it will hurt the party. If support levels for each candidate just keep splitting, then Harry Reid’s going to be smiling,” Herzik said. “They’re splitting the money. They’re splitting the message.”

The Reid camp, indeed, seemed pleased by the latest news.

“How many times can they undercut the Republican field by trying to recruit other candidates, and then rush back to embrace the current field when they get rejected time and again?” asked Brandon Hall, Reid’s campaign manager.

Krolicki would have needed millions of dollars to compete in the Senate race, in which Reid said he plans to raise $25 million. A campaign finance report shows Krolicki raised $140,000 last year for his re-election bid, more than $100,000 after an indictment against him was dismissed.

Krolicki said that he thought he could have raised the seven figures needed to run for the Senate and that he got support when he met recently with national GOP leaders in Washington. But he didn’t have enough time to put together a strong grass-roots campaign team.

“That’s the way it is,” Krolicki said. He added he is “pretty excited about running for lieutenant governor.”

Krolicki first announced he wanted to challenge Reid in November 2008. But he was sidetracked when he and an aide were indicted by a Clark County grand jury on charges of mishandling money in a college savings program. Krolicki at the time said that he was targeted for political reasons by Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, and that Reid was involved. Reid denied any involvement, and Masto said politics played no role. No money was ever missing from the $3 billion program, and the indictment was dismissed by a judge in December, which prompted Krolicki to explore the Senate run again.

“I think we would have had a very competitive campaign,” Krolicki said. “At the end of the day, looking at my family and the needs of those in Nevada, running for re-election for lieutenant governor is the most important thing that I could do.”

Krolicki has no primary opponent for lieutenant governor.

Krolicki wouldn’t speculate on whether he might run for U.S. Sen. John Ensign’s seat in 2012 when the senator would be up for re-election. Ensign has been operating under a cloud since he admitted to having an affair with a staffer and is under investigation by the Ethics Committee. Republican insiders expect Krolicki to make a bid in 2012 for Congress, either a Senate or House seat.

The lieutenant governor called the top Republicans in the Senate race before he announced his decision Thursday, and they offered support for his re-election bid.

“I appreciate his decision, and I will work hard to earn his support in my campaign,” Lowden said in a statement. “Brian Krolicki has my full support, and I urge my supporters to get behind him as well.”

Tarkanian said Krolicki would have been “a welcome and worthy candidate.”

“I found his recent consideration anything but ‘disingenuous’ as some have implied,” Tarkanian said in a reference to some Lowden supporters who had criticized Krolicki. “I know that he was motivated by the same desire I have to get our country headed in the right direction again.”

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.

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