Las Vegas Sun

November 26, 2014

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Jon Ralston:

Why Heck’s run for governor shows just how weak Gibbons is

Joe Heck is such a formidable candidate on paper that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s organization — aka the Democratic Party — set out to erase him in 2008.

Mission accomplished.

But with the deposed GOP state senator’s announcement, which will be made officially Monday, that he is running for governor despite the presence of a Republican in the office, the 2010 dynamic once again has been reshuffled, putting another Reid potentially at risk. Heck’s presence in a race that already has another announced Republican candidate — North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon — underscores just how weak Jim Gibbons, aka The Man Formerly Known as Governor, or Ø — really is. And though the Reid the Elder strategy to diminish Heck’s stature so he would not challenge him in 2010 was a success, the respected state senator’s decision to run for governor indicates he does not believe the whispered wisdom that Rory Reid is The Anointed One.

The sins of the father shall be visited upon the son. Rory to Harry: Thanks, Dad.

That Heck feels confident enough to enter a contested primary, after weeks spent traveling the state and finding little support for the incumbent, indicates just how vulnerable Gibbons is. As one prominent GOP consultant put it, hopeful of the prospect either Montandon or Heck will defeat the abdicant, “He’s a ticket-killer.”

Heck thought long and hard before deciding to get into the race, mulling several options, including a race against Reid the Elder. But after seeing this year’s State of the State address, which horrified him with its vacuity, Heck began visiting potential donors and traveling on the Lincoln Day dinner circuit. But he was still unsure until this week’s debacle with the room tax, in which Ø infuriated everyone by announcing he would not sign a $232 million item he had in his budget.

“There is no leadership in this state,” Heck declared in an interview Friday, referring not only but mostly to the man supposed to be living in the governor’s mansion.

Heck clearly believes he has the right profile — doctor, small-business owner, military veteran — to win primary and general elections. And with Montandon raising money — those close to him say he has banked $200,000 — Heck decided he couldn’t allow the North Las Vegas mayor to have the fundraising field to himself.

And Heck said he does not fear a scenario whereby a crowded GOP primary allows a weakened incumbent to nonetheless retain enough of a slice of the GOP base to emerge from a primary. That is also known as the Democratic dream come true and the GOP nightmare realized.

After the story broke Friday of his impending candidacy, Heck said, “the first e-mail I received was from a rural county chairman (expressing support).” And Heck’s experience in rural Nevada — aka The Counties Formerly Known as Gibbons Country — told him the incumbent had lost whatever luster he had left and the faithful would no longer be faithful.

The question for Heck is whether he can translate a terrific resume and immense good will within the party into a viable candidacy. He is coming off a campaign, Democratic wave notwithstanding, in which he lost to a mute opponent and left $100,000 in his campaign account. “Is he ready for prime time?” one key insider wondered.

Heck also has bridges to mend within GOP circles, where memories linger of his ousting the beloved Ann O’Connell in 2004 and where Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, who has a long memory, probably recalls rumblings of a Heck coup last session.

Heck says he has commitments up to a half-million dollars. But others also may consider a de facto open seat irresistible.

They range from the unlikely (Reno Mayor Bob Cashell, SAGE Commission Chairman Bruce James, Rep. Dean Heller or Sen. John Ensign) to the fanciful (recently ousted Sands executive Bill Weidner, who was very politically outspoken in 2008, has lots of money and no job).

But just the fact that so many names are being bandied about by Republicans shows they have zeroed out the possibility of the incumbent being reelected. The Democrats would be salivating over this except they may have their own problem if Reid the Younger confronts a spirited primary challenge from Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley. Buckley isn’t giving anything away, but she is not the type to be forced out or cajoled into a plum post secured by Reid the Elder — not that such things happen. And a Democratic bloodbath could elect the Republican nominee, theoretically even The Man Formerly Known as Governor.

Now that would truly be an impossible mission accomplished.

on Ralston hosts the news discussion program “Face to Face With Jon Ralston” on Las Vegas ONE and publishes the daily e-mail newsletter “RalstonFlash.com.” His column for the Las Vegas Sun appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.

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