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State Sen. Michael Roberson jumps into race for 3rd Congressional District

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Lance Iversen / AP

State Sen. Michael Roberson applauds during the opening session of the Nevada Legislature on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015, in Carson City.

Updated Wednesday, July 8, 2015 | 11:09 a.m.

State Sen. Michael Roberson, Nevada’s most powerful Republican senator and close ally of Gov. Brian Sandoval, announced today he will run for the 3rd Congressional District, ending months of speculation about a possible bid for federal office.

Roberson is the second establishment Republican to announce a bid for higher office this week, and his run will trigger a high-profile battle with Democrats during the 2016 presidential election cycle.

The announcement follows news this week that GOP Rep. Joe Heck, who currently holds the congressional seat, will run for U.S. Senate.

Roberson’s decisions follows the historic work he helped lead during the 2015 Legislative session. He was influential in shepherding the state’s more than $1.1 billion tax increase through a Republican-controlled Legislature.

Roberson has shifted his ideologies since taking office in 2010.

He was once a no-new-tax Republican but changed his views in a statewide effort to help bolster the state’s bottom-tier public education system. He also was influential in passing school choice legislation and collective bargaining reforms for school administrators.

Roberson, who received an early endorsement from Sandoval, made his announcement on his Twitter account and campaign website.

“I am proud that in Nevada we’ve worked to diversify our economy, enact landmark school choice reforms, and streamline government to make it more efficient and effective,” Roberson posted on his campaign website. “The Washington D.C. gridlock has worn thin with voters, and I’m running to be part of the solution.”

Roberson’s political ambition for higher office was well known in the state’s political circles, making him a high-priority target for Democrats in legislative sessions and campaign cycles.

He got his first taste in politics working in Washington, D.C., as an intern for Tom Delay, the former GOP congressman from Texas who had the reputation of being a ruthless negotiator nicknamed “The Hammer.”

Democrats have cast Roberson, an attorney, in much the same way and often make reference to the ties he has with Delay, who was indicted in a Texas court on election fraud charges in 2005 but was acquitted in 2014.

“Nevadans know Michael Roberson as nothing more than a political insider concerned with furthering his own ambitions and putting himself in the best position to serve his wealthy friends,” said Tyler Law, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee regional spokesman.

“This swing district will be looking for a representative that puts hardworking middle-class families ahead of pay-to-play politics. Roberson certainly doesn’t fit that description,” Law said.

The state’s 3rd Congressional District has been a Republican stronghold since it was created in 2003.

Dina Titus, who now represents the 1st Congressional District, was the only Democrat to win the seat. She was elected in 2008 and served one term before Heck ousted her in 2010.

Roberson, with deep state and national connections, will be a formidable opponent for any Democrat who decides to run.

National Democrat groups are wooing former Secretary of State Ross Miller to run, but no candidate for the party has formally announced.

Despite its GOP-led track record, the 3rd Congressional District, which incorporates parts of Summerlin and Henderson, is a district Democrats think they can win.

The party is hoping to rebound from a poor turnout in last year’s election, hoping to turn out minorities and young voters in record numbers. Heck beat his Democrat challenger in the 2014 midterm by more than 24 percent of the vote.

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