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September 4, 2015

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Letter From Washington:

Sharron Angle could loom large for GOP in reshaped state

Sharron Angle

Sharron Angle

Joe Heck

Joe Heck

With their races declared, there is no way Sharron Angle can work her Tea Party penchant for picking off incumbent Republicans. She’s running for the 2nd Congressional District seat, which Dean Heller will vacate to run for the U.S. Senate in 2012.

But Angle may yet claim a mainstream incumbent in Nevada’s other Republican congressman, Joe Heck, who will be defending his seat in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District.

Angle and Heck are running for separate offices at opposite ends of the state. But their fates are linked by the fact the Nevada map is changing.

By the end of the legislative session, Nevada will have crafted a new congressional map; one that carves out a 4th Congressional District. But because the bulk of the 2010 census population that’s earning Nevada that fourth seat comes from the left-leaning Southern Nevada, it’s all but guaranteed Republicans are going to lose their grip on one of the two seats they have in their column.

“You’re going to get two blue districts, one solid-red, and one leaner; there’s no other way to do it,” UNLV political science professor David Damore said. “Maybe they could try to cut both CD2 and CD3 as leaning districts, but eventually, one’s going to go blue.”

Although the mapmaking is supposed to be about the political future, the cold calculus of that trade-off could come down to the candidates at hand.

Although Heck has been welcomed as a rising party star, Angle has not received the warmest welcome from members of the state’s Republican establishment. They’ve still got a bad taste in their mouths over the 2010 election, when Angle failed to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a race that many believed was winnable.

As a result, in the 2nd District race, the Republican establishment will likely side with Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki or Nevada GOP Chairman Mark Amodei instead of Angle.

But Angle’s proven base of Tea Party support has never relied on the blessing of the political establishment — making Angle in 2012 a scenario that electoral cartographers must take into account.

The 2nd District is “a pretty Republican-leaning district, and no matter how you draw it, it’ll still be a district for the Republicans to lose,” said Eric Herzik, chairman of the political science department at UNR. “And Sharron Angle’s the type of Republican who could lose it for them.”

But sacrificing a Republican stronghold to shore up Heck’s seat and keep the nascent 4th District seat in play is no easy task on pure demographics. Heck’s office is anticipating losing 400,000 3rd District voters — a staggering number considering that Heck only won by 1,922 votes.

It’s possible to create a conservative-leaning 3rd District out of Summerlin, Green Valley and the perimeter areas of the state’s southern tip. But it would be a radical departure from the current district’s boundaries, and the Democrats who control the Legislature don’t have any incentive to play along — especially if they think they can pick off Angle on her turf (where she beat Reid by 19,667 votes but might not make such a strong showing against a candidate with broader appeal).

“Republicans took their bargaining chip off the table when they fired Bill Raggio,” the former Republican state Senate minority leader and legendary legislative dealmaker, Damore said. “The deal was going to be redistricting consideration for tax increases, but they’ve got no one capable of making that deal now.”

But even if Heck could be sunk by redistricting, it isn’t something his office wants to spend energy worrying about right now.

“It’s completely up to the Legislature and the governor,” said Heck spokesman Darren Littell, who said the congressman will run to represent whatever constituents they’ve got. “The redistricting process will be done well before primaries happen.”

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