Two reliable sources have confirmed that Congressman Dean Heller said this week he is definitely committed to running in the U.S. Senate race. Heller’s office would not confirm the news this morning when contacted.
Heller’s decision comes as no surprise on the tail of Senator John Ensign’s announcement Monday not to seek a third term. Heller had already signaled his ambitions when his office leaked an internal poll last month showing he was the strongest candidate in a GOP field (that included Ensign) by a 15-point margin.
Now we shall see whether Rep. Shelley Berkley decides to face off against Heller in what will be a tough contest for her despite the DSCC’s gleeful claim earlier this week that the seat is a “top pick up opportunity” for Democrats. Berkley, understanding her challenges, has reportedly been busy raising money, gauging support in rural counties outside her Southern Nevada base and running internal polling.
The DSCC has identified Ensign’s seat, as well as Scott Brown’s seat in Massachusetts, as their two best opportunities to increase the their majority in 2012. The Republicans have only 10 Senate seats to defend, while Democrats need to hold onto 23.
Though Obama won Nevada by nearly 13 percent, that margin will probably drop significantly in 2012. A strong Republican turnout combined with independent voters who may go Heller’s way could compensate for the Democrats’ 8-point registration advantage statewide. The race is by no means a lock, but most analysts agree Heller has the advantage.
Several Republicans including Lt Governor Brian Krolicki and Sharron Angle were assumed to be considering Senate runs in the wake of Ensign’s demise, but with Heller in the race each is now more likely to run for his congressional seat instead (although who knows what the unpredictable Sharron Angle will do).
On the Democrat side, state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller as well as Treasurer Kate Marshall are waiting in the wings to see what Berkley does.
Berkley has said to expect her announcement by early summer.