Who will oppose Hardy?

After Steven Horsford’s surprising loss to Republican Cresent Hardy last year, the ousted Democratic representative said he would go on a listening tour to find out why 4th Congressional District voters decided they wanted change.

But in the end, Horsford listened to his wife, Sonya, and his old boss, Billy Vassiliadis of R&R Partners, and decided to forgo a 2016 campaign to recapture the seat. Instead, Horsford will merge his firm with R&R’s and serve as managing director of the company’s Washington, D.C., office.

Let’s call this what it is: a loss for Southern Nevada. In a single term, Horsford proved he was an effective leader who could transition easily between bipartisan compromise seeker and fiery cable TV partisan, but not allow either role to overwhelm him. That’s part of the reason he earned the Review-Journal’s endorsement in that cycle, the only Democrat running for Congress to do so.

It’s also a loss for Nevada’s Democrats, inasmuch as Horsford was a powerful favorite to defeat Hardy in a year that will not see an outsized Republican turnout. Hardy hasn’t done much to distinguish himself in Washington, D.C., and today’s Review-Journal op-ed pondering whether a mythical pot of gold would change Nevada’s mind on a Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository certainly won’t help. Hardy claims in that piece he will “never cease to advocate for the people of my state and my district,” but he’s thus far failed to sign on to a bipartisan bill that would prohibit storing nuclear waste in any state without the consent of that state and its local governments. Curious.

No matter: The Democratic scrum to challenge Hardy began almost immediately, after former Assemblywoman Lucy Flores — who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2014 — tweeted that she would “seriously consider running” for the seat to continue Horsford’s “good work.”

Not to be left behind, state Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, took to Facebook: “I’m extremely humbled by the calls I’ve been getting encouraging me to run for Congressional District 4. I will be discussing this opportunity to run for U.S. Congress with my family, constituents, community leaders, and the DCCC in the next few days to help me determine how to move forward.”

Kihuen, you’ll recall, planned to run for the 1st Congressional District in 2012, when longtime Rep. Shelley Berkley left to challenge Dean Heller for U.S. Senate. But fellow Democrat and eventual winner Dina Titus refused to yield, and Kihuen dropped out rather than risk a potentially bloody and party-damaging primary fight.

But wait, there’s more: Another name that bubbled to the surface is that of state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-Las Vegas, who is making a name for himself in the Nevada Legislature fighting Republican proposals from his seat on the Commerce, Labor and Energy Committee, which he used to chair before Republicans took over this year, and his position on the Legislative Operations and Elections Committee.

And with that kind of a primary shaping up, others have suggested that North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee might be interested. Although Lee is busy trying to breathe new life into his careworn city’s economy, two factors might motivate him to seek a congressional seat. One, he’s a conservative Democrat, the kind who just might bridge the gap between urban party members and their more conservative rural brethren. (The district takes in Nye, Lincoln, White Pine, Esmeralda and Mineral counties, in addition to parts of Clark.)

The second factor: It’s rumored that “cowboy commissioner” Tom Collins, facing term limits in his current job, might be gearing up for a run against Lee in 2017. Collins has survived enough bad press to kill 10 normal politicians, but still remains popular enough that Lee would have to take a challenge seriously.

Losing Horsford is a blow, to be sure. But we won’t have a shortage of Democrats when it comes to replacing him, either.

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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