Published Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010 | 3:33 p.m.
Updated Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010 | 2:09 a.m.
Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki is strongly reconsidering a run for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Harry Reid, he told the Sun on Wednesday, a move that would shake up a crowded Republican primary.
“There are serious people making compelling arguments to me both in the state and out of the state to reconsider the Harry Reid race, and based on that pressure and those conversations, I am indeed looking at it,” Krolicki said.
Republicans in Washington are displeased with the current crop of candidates taking on Reid, including former state Sen. Sue Lowden, former UNLV basketball star Danny Tarkanian and former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle.
All are viewed as second-tier. Republicans are concerned they could be throwing away a golden opportunity to knock off Reid, the Senate majority leader whose approval numbers in Nevada languish in the 30s. Moreover, the party’s candidates have begun attacking each other, which could leave the eventual winner damaged.
The election of Scott Brown to the Senate in a Massachusetts special election Tuesday has Republicans, including Krolicki, feeling ebullient and liking their chances in November.
Asked about Krolicki, Sen. John Cornyn, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, tapped his coat pocket to indicate that he had the Republican’s phone number and would be calling.
“The primary voters will figure out who the nominee will be and make their own assessment of that,” Cornyn said. “But I think anytime you see something like what happened (in Massachusetts), other people are going to step up and see an opportunity there.”
He added: “The more the merrier.”
Krolicki said Sen. John McCain, whose Nevada presidential campaign he chaired, as well as other national figures, had reached out to him in the past week.
“It’s hard not to consider this when you have people like John McCain asking you to,” Krolicki said.
First, however, a Krolicki candidacy would shake up the Republican primary race, to be decided June 8. Krolicki is viewed as more polished, and unlike the other contenders, he has won statewide office three times, elected state treasurer twice before his 2006 election to the lieutenant governor post.
Krolicki was once viewed as a tarnished candidate after being indicted on charges of misusing his office funding as state treasurer to run an ad campaign that featured him. But the indictment was dismissed, and grass-roots Republicans rallied around him and accused the prosecutor, Democratic Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, of conducting a partisan investigation.
Krolicki only has about $100,000 on hand, but managed to raise $100,000 in the final days of 2009 after the indictment dismissal, though the money cannot be easily transferred to a federal race with its more stringent campaign finance regulations.
If he is the preferred candidate of Republicans in Washington, he could see a quick cash infusion and put pressure on other candidates to bow out.
Robert Uithoven, campaign manager for Lowden, was dismissive. “Brian Krolicki told Sue Lowden just a few weeks ago that there would be a lot of speculation about him running for Senate, but to pay no attention to it, he’s running for re-election,” said Uithoven, who was with Lowden as she toured a mine in Northern Nevada.
“He’s stated on a number of occasions he’s running for re-election to lieutenant governor, and unless he says otherwise, we take him at his word,” Uithoven said.
But Tuesday’s results changed the landscape.
“Scott Brown changed a lot of things about November, and candidates taking a second or even a third look at a race is one of them,” said Jennifer Duffy, a Senate analyst with the Cook Political Report.
Nevada Democratic consultant Dan Hart said a Krolicki candidacy would further muddy the waters in the Republican primary and doubted it would clear the field.
“This is probably causing celebration at the Reid campaign,” Hart said, quipping that conspiracy theorists would claim Reid himself had engineered it.
Hart noted that Krolicki is getting a late start on fundraising and campaigning and is still vulnerable to attack on the issue of misuse of state funding for the ad campaign featuring him.
“The legal stuff is behind him, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a political campaign. There are issues ripe for exploration,” he said.
Indeed, a Republican operative aligned with another Senate campaign foreshadowed the campaign to come: “Just because an attorney general bungles a case, and whether the case was politically motivated or not, doesn’t change the fact that taxpayer dollars that were supposed to go for college education for Nevada kids were diverted and spent on political ads for Brian Krolicki.”
Krolicki has said the money was used on a necessary marketing campaign for the state’s college fund, and notes that lots of government marketing materials feature images of elected officials.
Tarkanian is in Washington this week to meet with lawmakers, conservative leaders and potential donors, though now it appears the visit could lead to some awkward moments. His campaign declined to comment on Krolicki, saying only, “Full speed ahead.”
Chuck Muth, the conservative activist and former executive director of the Nevada Republican Party, acknowledged the unrest among party leaders in Washington and the rank-and-file in Nevada.
“I don’t know if it’s so much dissatisfaction with who they have but a desire for someone who can come in and clear the field,” he said. “I don’t think anybody is running away with the nomination yet and there’s a lot of people frustrated with that.”
Still, Muth said Krolicki lacks the political weight to clear the field.
“Running for treasurer and lieutenant governor doesn’t translate into an 800-pound gorilla to scare others out of the race,” said Muth, who started the anti-Reid Political Action Committee.
Muth agreed with Hart that Krolicki would continue to be haunted by the dismissed indictment as his opponents will likely use the charges as fodder for campaign ads.
“His middle name will always be ‘Indicted,’ ” Muth said.
David Damore, a UNLV political scientist, disagreed. Krolicki has suggested Reid engineered the indictment, and Damore said he could use the dismissal to his advantage.
“It’s a good story: The Democrats wanted me out so they trumped up the charges,” Damore said. “He can portray himself as the candidate the Democrats did not want to face.”
Brandon Hall, Reid’s campaign manager, said Krolicki’s possible entrance into the race doesn’t affect the dynamics of the campaign.
“We started early and we’re prepared to run an aggressive campaign against any Republican that emerges from the crowded primary field,” he said.
Lisa Mascaro reported from Washington, D.C.