WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) decision not to run for re-election in 2016 sets up a Nevada Senate race that’s wide open on both the Republican and Democratic sides.
“It’s a tossup because the presidential race is a tossup there – I’d expect the candidates to run closely together,” Kyle Kondik, the managing editor for polling guru Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, told TPM Friday.
The question on the Republican side is if Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), often mentioned as the top contender for Senate, will change his mind and decide to run. He had previously said he was not interested in running, despite encouragement from national Republicans. A national Senate Republican aide listed Sandoval, who is Hispanic, on Friday on the shortlist for running for Senate.
“I think part of Sandoval’s thing is that he didn’t want to run against Reid but I also think part of it was that he likes being governor of Nevada and he didn’t really want to go back and live in DC. But all eyes will turn to Sandoval to see,” Reid 2010 campaign manager Brandon Hall told TPM. “I’m sure the Republicans will go after him, he’s a strong candidate.”
If Sandoval does not change his mind, Nevada Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson is poised to be a strong contender. Roberson, a moderate Republican, had been rumored to be preparing to run for Senate. Lieutenant Gov. Mark Hutchison is also a possible Republican contender.
“If not Sandoval, then you look for the Lieutenant Governor, Mark Hutchison,” Hall said. “And then it’s Nevada so you’re going to get one or two of those really right-wing Sharron Angle types that will get in the race. That’ll make it interesting.” (Angle was the GOP nominee who lost to Reid in 2010.)
There is no Democratic heir apparent to Reid. Democrats mentioned Catherine Marie Cortez Masto, the former two-term attorney general who couldn’t run again because of Nevada term limits, and former Secretary of State Ross Miller —who lost the race for attorney general— or perhaps state Sen. Ruben Kihuen. National Democrats were quick to stress that the bench of potential candidates was decent even if Reid was not running.
Democrats say that despite the fact that Republicans were able to win majorities in both chambers of the state legislature and keep the governor’s mansion in the 2014 election cycle, 2016 will be drastically different. It’s a presidential year which usually means better turnout, especially among minorities, for Democrats in a purple state such as Nevada. The Hispanic and Latino population makes up about a third (27 percent) of the state’s population, according to Pew Research in late 2014.
“There is a talented pool of Nevada Democrats who are ready to step up to the plate, and we will recruit a top-notch candidate in Nevada who will be successful in holding this seat in 2016,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) said in a statement.