Reapportionment Will Bring Opportunity to Pols

Posted April 23, 2007 at 6:17pm

Political up-and-comers sometimes wait years for their chance. Take first-term Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). The former state Assemblyman and aide to ex-Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) worked for the former Ways and Means chairman for more than a decade before Thomas handed in his gavel last year after 14 terms. [IMGCAP(1)]

But in Nevada, playing politics may not require so much patience. With the 2010 Census just around the corner, the fruits of reapportionment in the nation’s fastest-growing state are a virtual certainty.

To many, it’s not a matter of if the state will gain more Congressional seats, but how many.

“We expect to get no less that one House seat,” said state GOP spokesman Zachary Moyle. “There’s talk of possibly getting two.”

And if predictions by Moyle and other Nevada political observers prove correct, the field of potential candidates vying for the new seats will be vast. Still roughly five years off, a half-dozen or so climbers appear to mulling a Senate, gubernatorial or House run.

First on Moyle’s list?

“I could certainly see our lieutenant governor, Brian Krolicki (R), looking” at a future gubernatorial run, Moyle said. “He’s on track to be our next governor.”

Standing in Krolicki’s way, however, is scandal-plagued, first-term Gov. Jim Gibbons (R), who is a former five-term House Member. Should Gibbons emerge from his initial shaky performance as the Silver State’s chief executive — and Krolicki is required to wait eight years for the governor’s mansion to go vacant — Moyle said “you could easily see” Krolicki making a run for a House or Senate seat.

“You never know with someone like Brian,” Moyle said. “He’s definitely someone that could garner the support.”

State Sen. Bob Beers is another GOP party favorite, according to Moyle, and he obviously harbors higher political ambitions. Last August, Beers finished second to Gibbons in the state’s GOP gubernatorial primary.

“He ran an excellent campaign,” Moyle said. “He put his name out there, people know who he is.”

The state’s two Senate seats are out of play until at least 2010 and presumably as long as the current occupants decide to seek re-election. Last, year, Republican Sen. John Ensign took 55 percent of the vote against Democrat Jack Carter, son of former President Jimmy Carter. And in 2004, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) bested Republican businessman Richard Ziser by more than 200,000 votes.

On the House side, five-term Las Vegas Democrat Rep. Shelley Berkley, after facing only token primary opposition, closed out Election Day 2006 with 65 percent of the vote, and her seat should be safe for as long as she wants it.

Rep. Dean Heller (R), who holds Gibbons’ former seat, had to struggle to win his first term in 2006 with 50 percent of the vote. But his vast district, which takes in most of the state besides the Las Vegas area, generally votes Republican, so Heller — a former Nevada secretary of state — should be in decent shape.

In the suburban Las Vegas 3rd district, GOP Rep. Jon Porter (R) won his third term in 2006 with just 49 percent of the vote.

Although both Porter and Heller won close 2006 contests, Nevada-based Democratic consultant Gary Gray considers only Porter’s seat a possible pickup for a Democratic challenger.

“Heller, unless he makes an incredible mistake, probably has a safe seat,” Gray said. “You have 43,000 more Republicans in that district. Now that he’s in, he’s going to have a fairly safe seat — even with reapportionment.”

But Democrats are again considering Porter’s Las Vegas-area district as a potential pickup. The district initially was drawn to be competitive between the two parties, and Porter won his seat in 2002 in part because his Democratic opponent was ethically challenged.

In the previous cycle, former Reid aide Tessa Hafen lost by fewer than 4,000 votes and Gray said Porter’s continued support for the White House will again make the seat competitive.

“He’s a bit out of step with his constituents, which was fine when the Republicans had the majority in the House,” Gray said. “Porter’s just one of those guys that’s going to see opposition and, so far, he’s been able to survive by attacking his opponents mercilessly.”

Democrats currently grooming themselves for House runs in 2008 and beyond, Gray said, include Nevada Assembly majority floor leader John Oceguera, state Senate minority floor leader Dina Titus — who was the party’s standard-bearer in the 2006 gubernatorial race — state treasurer Kate Marshall and state Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley.

While any of the four could make a 2008 run, family issues likely will keep Buckley from running next year, but she could be an ideal candidate for a post-reapportionment seat.

“[Buckley’s] youngest son is still in elementary school but close to going in to middle school,” Gray said. “A couple of more cycles.”

Rory Reid, son of the Senate majority leader, also is said to be considering a possible run against Porter. The younger Reid, the Clark County commission chairman, also runs Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) presidential campaign in Nevada.

A wild card for 2008 and beyond, Gray said, is how heavily the nouveau-rich, Las Vegas-area business leaders — not career politicians — decide to involve themselves in federal politics.

“In the greater Las Vegas-area … [there are] an awful lot of people who have made incredible amounts of money,” Gray said. “They’re saying: ‘What else can I do, what else can I accomplish?

“They’ve got a lot of connections through the business world and quite a few of them happen to be Democratic,” Gray added.

Republican consultant Moyle said Nevada’s rock-ribbed, rural GOP strongholds should buffer Democratic gains in fast-growing Las Vegas, a city that could be diced into three Congressional districts after 2010.

Outside the state’s two largest counties, “10 [percent] to 15 percent of the rest of the state are rural counties,” Moyle said. “And these are what wins us elections every single election. … It’s a real big question how the lines will be drawn” after the 2010 Census.