The GOP’s Angle Problem: Nevada’s Upcoming Special House Election

April 22, 2011 7:53 a.m.

The resignation of scandal-plagued Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), and the expected appointment of current Republican candidate Rep. Dean Heller to the seat, could portend a political mess of a wholly different sort: A special election for Heller’s House seat — and the conundrum for Republicans posed by the potential candidacy of their losing U.S. Senate nominee from 2010, Sharron Angle.

Angle, who lost the 2010 Senate race despite the national Republican wave — due to controversy over extreme statements about “Second Amendment remedies” to Democratic policies, and her statements in favor of phasing out Social Security and Medicare — has already been running for the House seat, along with retired Navy Commander Kirk Lippold, who was chief officer of the U.S.S. Cole when it was attacked by al Qaeda in 2000. In addition, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and state GOP chair Mark Amodei are reportedly considering the race.

The problem: Under the rules for special elections in Nevada, the parties would select the nominees rather than primary voters doing the job — and the same party leaders who watched Angle blow the very winnable 2010 Senate race, would be much more likely to pick someone else.

As Roll Call reports:

If the parties are ultimately allowed to choose their nominees, a high-ranking Nevada GOP source said there is “no way” Angle would be tapped to be the party’s standard-bearer. But Amodei would likely have the upper hand in that scenario.

In addition, The Hill reports:

That process would likely leave Angle on the outs given that she’s not exactly a favorite of party insiders. Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R) also wants the seat and Nevada Republicans view him as a much more electable choice. State GOP Chairman Mark Amodei would also be in the mix.

According to one GOP insider in Nevada, “That’s not even a contest. They won’t pick Angle.”

However, the Las Vegas Sun reports that the state’s special election laws aren’t so straightforward, and the race could potentially see additional candidates:

Some lawyers argue the law allows multiple major party candidates to file for the election, instead of putting the nominating decision to the parties’ central committees. In that case, several Republicans and several Democrats could vie for the seat on the same ballot.

Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller said he will make a decision on the process after reviewing all of the applicable laws if Heller is appointed.

What’s more, The Hill’s report noted that the statute might not preclude having a primary, but that local Nevada Republicans expect the state GOP’s central committee to ultimately select the nominee.

Interestingly, Angle actually carried the most Republican district in the state, in the 2010 Senate race. However, her latest campaign is already off to a rough and controversial start, such as when she said that the Veterans of Foreign Wars PAC “betrayed America” when it endorsed Reid. Dealing with Angle’s baggage is probably not a job the Nevada GOP wants.

So what happens if she gets snubbed by the party? Could she launch an independent bid? Would her base stay home, rather than support the establishment candidate? And even if another GOP nominee did win, would Angle continue out on the trail in a primary challenge?

There’s only one way to find out!

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