Ensign to retire. GOP breathes sigh of relief
The announcement from Senator John Ensign that he would not seek another term next year has national Republicans breathing a sigh of relief.
The scandal plagued senator was seen as one of the few vulnerable Republican incumbents in 2012 and his withdrawal allows a very strong GOP candidate to probably take his place - Representative Dean Heller. Heller had already been raising money and drawing support in anticipating a primary battle with Ensign, which no doubt contributed to Ensign's decision.
Democrats are touting the announcement as their chance to pick up the seat.
"Nevada is now an open seat, and ripe for a Democratic pickup. It remains high on our target list. Whoever Republicans field as their candidate will have a tough time holding onto this seat in a blue-trending state with President Obama at the top of the ticket. Democrats will have the resources needed to win this seat and just as important, will build a grassroots organization that matches 2008 and 2010," Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement.
And Republicans expressed confidence they would keep the seat.
"Next year's Senate race in Nevada will now come down to a clear choice between two competing visions for our country - between a Republican candidate who believes in smaller government, fiscal responsibility and creating good, private sector jobs, and a Democrat candidate who believes in keeping our country on the same reckless fiscal path of more government and higher taxes. Republicans welcome this choice and I am confident we will successfully retain this seat as we work to win back a new Senate Republican majority," National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said in a statement.
The Democrat's best bet may be Rep. Shelley Berkley who succeeded Ensign in 2000 as the representative from the 1st District. Expect the unions in Nevada - especially the powerful Culinary Union which represents 60,000 workers and has a full war chest - to make a maximum effort to win the seat for the Dems.
Dean Heller has a lot going for him as well. He's a Mormon which will help him in many key areas of the state. He has already won several statewide races as Nevada Secretary of State. He is a proven fund raiser and has a solid conservative voting record, including opposition to TARP and the auto bailout.
Nevada has been tending blue in recent national elections because the weight of the Las Vegas and Reno vote which is heavily Democratic. But a good conservative should be able to win if they raise enough cash and run a good race. For those reasons, Republicans should be fairly optimistic about their chances.