AP Photo/Cathleen Allison
Published Monday, May 2, 2011 | 11:24 a.m.
Updated Monday, May 2, 2011 | 8:16 p.m.
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- Nevada’s special election laws not so clear, probably will result in lawsuit (4-22-2011)
- Sen. John Ensign to resign, Dean Heller likely replacement (4-21-11)
CARSON CITY — Secretary of State Ross Miller opened the floodgates Monday when he announced the Sept. 13 special election for the 2nd Congressional District will be a free-for-all — an open ballot for any Republican or Democrat who is qualified to run.
In fact, Miller’s office won’t even charge the customary $300 filing fee. The announcement could set the stage for a California-like scrum of dozens of Republicans competing with dozens of Democrats for the chance to serve out the remainder of Republican Rep. Dean Heller’s term after he is sworn in this month to the U.S. Senate.
But stronger forces are aligning that may keep that from happening — namely Democrats’ desire to give their candidate a fighting chance to win the seat and Republicans’ desire to marginalize former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle after she bungled last year’s race against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Miller’s decision to take the nominating process out of the hands of the state Republican and Democratic parties unleashed a flood of accusations from Republicans that his decision was partisan and not based on the law. “Any suggestion that this wasn’t a partisan decision is laughable,” Republican consultant Ryan Erwin said.
Indeed, a free-for-all election — or as Miller coined it, a ballot royale — gives Democrats their best shot at capturing the congressional seat that has been controlled by Republicans since its creation. Paradoxically, however, it also sets the conditions for Democrats to lose it.
“This could be a good opportunity for us,” one Democratic source said. “If we have one Democrat and a few Republicans, then we have a shot. But it really depends on who those Republicans are, and I don’t think Angle is necessarily a supermagic bullet.”
The problem is that at least three Democrats are mulling the race.
State Treasurer Kate Marshall has hired a campaign manager and seems intent on running, although she hasn’t made an official announcement. Former Regent Jill Derby, who ran twice unsuccessfully in the district, is telling people she is serious about the race and former Regent Nancy Price, who ran and lost last year, also says she’s in.
If party leaders can’t talk two of them out of the race, the Democrats’ only advantage evaporates.
“I don’t think either one wants to become the awful spoiler who didn’t make this possible,” the Democratic source said of Derby and Marshall, seen as the strongest of the three candidates.
The Nevada Republican Party, which had already begun setting up the process to nominate a candidate to run in the special election, will likely sue to halt the open ballot, the party’s Reno lawyer David O’Mara said.
He argues Miller is selectively interpreting the law and ignoring tradition. (He points to a 1954 special election for the U.S. Senate in which the party central committees selected the nominees.)
Erwin argues the sanctity of the parties’ role in putting their best candidate forward shouldn’t be violated.
“It’s what a party is supposed to do,” he said. “It’s why we have primaries and caucuses. It’s how people get vetted.”
If the party’s central committee is allowed to select a nominee, it’s unlikely Angle, who has garnered significant party anger in the wake of her loss to Reid, would get the nod.
But in the free-for-all, Republicans find themselves in largely the same position as Democrats.
State Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, is busily working to lock up enough establishment support to go up against Angle. But Kirk Lippold, former commander of the USS Cole is already in the race and at least two other Republican candidates are eyeing the seat as well, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and Nevada Republican Party Chairman Mark Amodei.
The scrum would not only give the advantage to a sole Democratic candidate, but also to Angle.
For his part, Miller said the benefit of the process to one party or another didn’t enter his decision-making. He is adamant that his position is supported in the law and that it is sound policy.
“To suggest that candidates for this or any particular public office should be the sole determination of a few politically elite power brokers is an absolute insult to the intelligence of those voters,” he said.