The news did not come as a surprise but, for Nevada Republicans, more of a relief. Rep. Joe Heck, who has been in the House since 2011, said on Monday (7/6) he is seeking the Senate seat being vacated by Harry Reid (D) after five terms.
The GOP had been concerned ever since Gov. Brian Sandoval announced a month ago that he was too busy trying to get the state’s affairs in order to run for the Senate. Sandoval is popular, smart and Hispanic, and Republicans saw him as a dream candidate and a sure winner, with or without Reid in the race. But conservatives bristled over the governor’s recent tax rise, the largest in state history, done, Sandoval said, to fund Nevada’s woefully underfunded K-12 education system. It’s tough to be a Republican running for the Senate after having pushed through a record tax increase.
Heck doesn’t have that albatross. He is on good terms with both the tea party and establishment wings of the party, and thus less likely to incite a conservative rebellion in the primary. He may not have Sandoval’s charisma and personal popularity, but he is expected to be a strong candidate.
Here’s Heck’s announcement video:
Our headline, that Nevada becomes the GOP’s best chance for a Senate pickup, is true, but that goes only so far. Eight of the ten Democratic seats up in 2016 seem at this point completely out of reach for the Republicans: Connecticut (Blumenthal), Vermont (Leahy), Washington (Murray), Hawaii (Schatz), New York (Schumer), Oregon (Wyden) and open seats in California (Boxer retiring) and Maryland (Mikulski retiring). The only other seat that is expected to be in play is in Colorado, where Michael Bennet won in 2010 in part because his Republican opponent ran an inept campaign. But Republicans have yet to find a strong candidate to take him on.
That’s what happened in Nevada five years ago. Reid had disastrously poor polling numbers at home and seemed ripe for the picking in 2010. But the GOP nominated — to Reid’s glee — Sharron Angle, a tea party favorite who had a propensity for saying some impolitic things during the campaign that turned off centrists and moderate Republicans … despite their dislike of Reid.
Reid of course is not going quietly. He has pushed through the former state attorney general, Catherine Cortez Masto, as his successor, scaring off any potential primary challengers in the process. A Latina who is thought to be a strong candidate, Cortez Masto probably has a better chance of holding the seat for her party than Reid would have. She certainly doesn’t have his negatives. She’ll probably inspire a strong Hispanic turnout (a win would make her the Senate’s first Latina member). And she’s likely to have Hillary Clinton atop the ticket.
Political Junkie rating: Tossup.