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April 24, 2014

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Is Sheila Leslie taking one for the team, or winning one for the Democrats?

Lest anyone forget exactly why state Sen. Shelia Leslie moved to a new district to run against Republican Greg Brower, let me distill: The Democrats are in a semi-panic about holding onto their fragile majority, feeling that two southern seats they hold are very vulnerable, and they clearly believe they need to pick up a seat to bolster their chances. At 11-10, there is not a lot of margin for error. And unless Elizabeth “The Invisible Woman” Halseth, dealing with an ugly personal situation, decides to resign and allow the opposition to take her seat, the Democrats may need to take out Brower to have any chance.

So here is what happened: Leslie and others tried to recruit Washoe Sheriff Mike Haley to run against Brower. Haley thought about it, but then declined, leaving the party in a bind.

So Leslie, who has a safe seat, decided to take a gamble and move into the house she bought a couple of years ago in Brower’s district. And then she quietly prepared to resign – her letter to Gov. Brian Sandoval is posted at right – and take on Brower for the party’s sake.

The Sun’s Anjeanette Damon had the surprising story first and got some choice comments from both senators.

So who has the advantage? The district is split, although recent registration gains have given the Republicans a slight edge – 40 percent to 38 percent. Both sides remain remarkably confident.

Here are the arguments:

For Brower: The Democrats talk about Barack Obama and Harry Reid winning the district, but the circumstances were very different: The Democratic wave in ’08, the Sharron Angle disaster of ’10.

Sandoval won the district by a huge margin – 19 points. It may be more Republican by Election Day and the GOP is likely to have a turnout advantage. Brower will have a fully funded, professional campaign (hello, Mike Slanker and Team Sandoval) and Leslie’s liberal record may not play well among independents if the campaign is executed well. Slanker does like to do these kinds of races, by the way.

For Leslie: Brower is not Angle, but Reid’s performance (54 percent) and Obama’s (57 percent) cannot be discounted because they show what can happen there when the Democrats turn out voters. That cannot be ignored based on history.

Leslie also is known as a hard worker with tangible accomplishments. While most folks don’t know who their legislator is, Leslie has been in office for a long time and will bring many groups and grass-roots folks to bear. She has consistently outperformed her registration edge in her district while Brower has done the opposite.

My take: This may be the most expensive state Senate race in history. My guess is lots of outside money will be spent and don’t forget: This race could be a key battleground in the presidential and U.S. Senate races. Beyond all the numbers and the history, this could come down to whether Brower, who has a reputation (fair or not) of not being a hard worker in Carson City or in campaigns, shows he is a different kind of candidate this cycle. This will not be handed to him. The last time he was complacent, a woman named Sharron Angle took his seat. Now he is facing a reverse image of Angle – a fierce liberal partisan who will not rest from now until November.

This is a pure toss-up.

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