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Heller’s Uphill Climb; Angle’s Downhill Slide

Welcome to Campaign 2012!

Sen. John Ensign finally did half of the right thing by announcing that he wouldn’t seek another term after donors clamped their wallets shut and essentially told him it was time to take a hike.

Shortly thereafter, Republican Rep. Dean Heller announced his candidacy for the seat and is the prohibitive favorite for the nomination even if anyone else should jump into the GOP primary. He was immediately endorsed by Gov. Brian Sandoval and other high-ranking Republican officials. Too bad Ensign won’t resign and allow Sandoval to appoint Heller to replace him so Heller could run as the incumbent.

Heller’s likely Democrat opponent, Rep. Shelley Berkley of Las Vegas is considered by most prognosticators to be a slight favorite to pick up this GOP seat. She will benefit from a voter registration advantage, as well as Harry Reid’s grassroots turn-out machine that vaporized Sharron Angle’s lackluster, mismanaged campaign last year. Plus she’ll be on the same ticket as President Barack Obama.

While Heller is clearly the strongest candidate the GOP could possibly field in this race, he’s not a slam dunk for retaining the seat. Republicans better get better organized and fired up about this race pronto.

Which brings us to the GOP primary race to replace Heller in his northern/rural congressional district.

Angle was the first to announce her candidacy; an announcement that was greeted by many Republicans with, “Oh, no…not again.” Still, because of her name ID and a national fundraising base developed in her losing effort against Reid last year, Angle is clearly the favorite at this point to nab the nomination.

That said, Angle’s demonstrated ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory has many Republicans, even among some who were squarely behind her last year, wishing she’d just take the hint and fade into the sunset.

And that national fundraising base she developed last year had far less to do with supporting Angle than opposing Reid. It’s not likely she’ll be able to raise anywhere near as much money for a little congressional race with no clear national implications.

However, a crowded primary field likely to include Kirk Lippold, Mark Amodei, Brian Krolicki and Greg Brower could split the anti-Angle vote and hand the social conservative another shot at the brass ring. Unfortunately, just as many believed Angle was the only candidate who could possibly have lost to Harry Reid last year, many now believe she’s the only candidate who could possibly lose the 2nd congressional district seat next year, as well.

Knowing the Republican track record of never blowing an opportunity to blow an opportunity, I’d say the GOP has a lot to worry about in this race. Gentlemen (and lady), start your engines.

UPDATE: Just a few hours after this was initially published, John Ensign announced his resignation.