The announcement Harry Reid would not run for reelection shook up the Nevada political landscape. Now, another possible announcement threatens to upend it even further. Since Harry Reid’s announcement, Congressman Joe Heck (R) has announced he is reconsidering his prior statement he would run for reelection in the competitive Las Vegas suburbs based 3rd Congressional District.
Heck has run strongly in the district. When he was first elected in 2010 he won the district by a narrow 1800 votes over Congresswoman Dina Titus. Titus, who now represents the urban Las Vegas based 1st Congressional District is contemplating running for Senate. When Obama was carrying the district in 2012 and after redistricting meant Heck had to introduce himself to new voters he carried it by 7%. In 2014 he won it by a large 24% margin.
But for all of Heck’s strengths the Congressman probably does not stand much of a chance in a statewide Senate race. First off, Heck is likely to face a primary from the right if he runs. One Republican is already in the race, Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Beers while others including state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, former state Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert, who served as Gov. Brian Sandoval’s chief of staff, and Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison have indicated varying degrees of interest. However, Roberson might run for Heck’s vacant seat while Hutchinson and Gansert might defer to Heck to unite the party.
Second, Heck will be running statewide for the first time and have to introduce himself to a statewide electorate. Though he benefits from living in the suburban 3rd CD he will still need to introduce himself to a wide swath of voters. Thirdly and this is the biggie is Heck will be running against the Reid machine. The potential impact of the Reid machine cannot be overstated as it allowed the former Majority Leader to survive strong challenges in 1998 (John Ensign) and 2010 (Sharron Angle).
Heck could be aided by a Democratic primary if it develops. Former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto jumped into the race as soon as Reid said he was not running but that has not stopped Titus from contemplating a bid. In a clash of those two heavyweights Heck could wait it out exploit whatever damage is done to the eventual Democratic nominee.
Whatever happens Heck will likely need some luck to be on his side. His appeal to Latinos is likely to be limited and by extension his ability to win cross-over voters. Secondly, Heck will need the ultimate GOP Presidential nominee to run well in Nevada to give the Congressman a chance. Fewer and fewer voters today are splitting their ballots in federal races.
Add it all together and I am skeptical Heck can win if he runs. This assumes he runs as the 800 pound elephant in the room has yet to announce his intentions, Governor Brian Sandoval. No Republican would command such a strong presence than the Governor.