Friday, July 3, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Rep. Dean Heller gave strong hints this week that he will not run against Sen. Harry Reid in 2010.
Although Heller told the Sun he has not made up his mind and does not feel rushed to do so, he seemed to hint strongly that he will run for reelection rather than take on Reid. Heller said he likes his district, likes his constituents and likes his committee assignment.
The Republican was referring to his prized spot on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, the House’s most important money committee.
Reid backers will take comfort in Heller’s apparent reluctance to get in the race, as the second-term congressman from Carson City is viewed as the toughest challenger to Reid, who suffers from flagging poll numbers.
Heller won by a razor-thin margin in the heavily Republican 2nd Congressional District in 2006 but won handily in 2008. He has burnished his conservative bona fides and is popular in his district, and has won statewide races for secretary of state.
Republicans have courted Heller heavily and are growing impatient, according to a Republican consultant granted anonymity to speak freely about internal GOP politics.
“If you need to be talked into it night after night with senators, do you really want it?” the consultant asked. “Do you have the fire in the belly? If it becomes a thing where he has to be talked into it, he doesn’t have the fire in the belly.”
Wanting it badly, it would seem, is a prerequisite for running against Reid, who will be backed by as much as $25 million.
Senate Republicans are desperate to knock out the majority leader, who spent years thwarting their agenda when Republicans were on top, then swiped their majority when Democrats nearly ran the table in the 2006 elections.
Reid’s political team will have no compunctions about getting into a tough, even nasty campaign. That could be on the mind of Heller, who has had a solid relationship with Reid that goes back years.
Senate Republicans have told the Sun they cannot wait forever, and seem resigned that Heller is staying put.
“I think he likes the job he has,” said Sen. John Thune, the new No. 4 on the leadership ladder, replacing Nevada Sen. John Ensign, who resigned his post following the revelation that he had an affair with a member of his campaign staff who is married to a man who was also a member of his staff.
The Ensign matter, which rocked Nevada politics last month, has given Heller some time, as senators told him to let the Ensign issue blow over some.
Heller’s hesitance on the Senate race is obscuring what may be his primary goal — becoming governor. He said as much right after he won a seat in Congress.
It is unclear how much Heller likes Washington. His wife and children have moved back West after a stint in D.C. Heller told the Sun last year that he sleeps on a cot in his office, which is a badge of honor among some Republican members but also might indicate he is not enamored of Washington.
In a race for governor, Heller would be forced to run against incumbent Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons, who is politically wounded and faces two other primary opponents: former state Sen. Joe Heck and former North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon.
Without Heller, Republicans such as consultant Steve Wark are hoping to recruit a political unknown — an independently wealthy successful businessman, perhaps with a military background.
Barring that, Republicans will be left with second tier candidates with some experience running for office, including state Sen. Mark Amodei and the lightly regarded former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle.
Sun reporter Lisa Mascaro contributed to this story from Washington, D.C.