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The re-election campaign of Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) has garnered little national attention thus far but with Las Vegas’ colorful mayor seriously mulling a bid, the race could become a top-tier affair.
Nevada is a swing state with Democrats and Republicans almost at parity in voter registration. Ensign had raised more than $2 million as of Sept. 30 with no Democratic opponent.
Businessman Jack Carter (D), son of former President Jimmy Carter, began floating his name as a possible candidate in early October. Carter now says he is definitely running, but it’s Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman (D) who is generating the most buzz.
For now Goodman is not saying anything, but Nevada political watchers say the former mob attorney was interested enough to reach out to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
“Oscar Goodman is not serious about much, but is he actually making moves that would indicate that he is looking at this race?” Nevada political columnist Jon Ralston asked. “Yes. He is the one who initiated all of this. I think he has thought about being a Senator much more than he has thought about being governor,” said Ralston, author of the Nevada political tip sheet the Ralston Report.
Reid said he expects a decision out of Goodman in the next few weeks, but did not discount the possibility that Carter would make a strong challenger.
“That’s not a name somebody should just slough off,” Reid said.
Goodman would not speak for this article.
“He’s the happiest mayor; he has not made any comments as of yet” about the Senate race, according to his spokeswoman Elena Perez.
Nevada sources said the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has conducted a poll showing Goodman with very high favorable ratings.
Carter had only good things to say about his possible opponent.
“I think Oscar would be a great candidate,” Carter said. “He would be a tough opponent, but he has one major problem and that problem is if he wins he’ll have to leave Las Vegas and go to Washington, D.C.”
Goodman is known for his flamboyance. He attends functions with show girls on either arm and does not hide the pleasure he derives from a well-poured cocktail. That has endeared him to the residents of Las Vegas and southern Nevada, who make up 70 percent of the state’s population, but might not play as well in rural Nevada.
“Oscar Goodman is extraordinarily popular in southern Nevada,” said one Nevada Democratic operative who did not want to be named. “The things that normally trip up other political figures ... he has Teflon Ronald Reagan would be jealous of. But it’s uniquely a southern Nevada phenomena.”
Ralston said Goodman would vault Nevada to the top of the competitive list but that geography constrains him.
Rural Nevada does not like or trust Clark County, which encompasses Las Vegas, Ralston said.
“Who better to embody that fear and loathing than a flamboyant mob lawyer from Las Vegas?” Ralston asked.
The Democratic operative said he could not predict if Goodman would run but opined that Goodman alone can put the seat in play.
If Carter or anyone else is the nominee, “It wouldn’t have the fireworks that an Oscar-John matchup would,” the source said. “Nevada is not immune from partisan issues but I don’t think there’s anyone who thinks any race would be as exciting as an Oscar race.”
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
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