Nevada Senate: Goodman vs. Ensign?
Could Nevada's junior senator, John Ensign (R), be vulnerable this fall?
The answer is maybe -- assuming a few dominoes fall Democrats' way in the next few weeks.
Jack Carter, the son of former President Jimmy Carter, formally announced his candidacy in Carson City yesterday accompanied by his parents. Jack is the oldest son of the presidential couple and is a relative newcomer to Nevada -- having moved to the state just three years ago to start an investment consulting business with his wife.
Carter's candidacy struggled to get off the ground in the fall after it came to light that he had left the Navy with an administrative discharge following an admission of drug use. Carter raised roughly $270,000 in the last three months of 2005 and ended the year with $224,000 in the bank -- a decent but not overwhelming sum. By contrast, Ensign brought in $433,000 in the period, closing the year with $2.4 million on hand.
Enter Oscar Goodman (D) -- the flamboyant mayor of Las Vegas. Before being in 1999, Goodman was a high-profile -- and controversial -- figure, gaining notoriety as the lead attorney for a number of organized crime figures, including Meyer Lansky and Tony "The Ant" Spilotro. Goodman has embraced the "what happens here stays here" motto of his city as its mayor -- he is regularly accompanied by showgirls and has a weak spot for Elvis impersonators.
Goodman has said that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), along with Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), have approached him about the contest. He has not indicated a timetable for a final decision and did not return a call seeking comment on his interest (or lack thereof) in the race.
A Goodman candidacy would certainly be intriguing -- although it's not entirely clear where the money would come from to fund what would certainly be a very expensive bid against Ensign. Reid and Ensign have adopted something of a non-aggression pact since their bruising contest in 1998, which Reid won by 428 votes. The two give all the impression of having become close friends; last week, Reid made a heartfelt speech on the Senate floor about Ensign, who suffered minor injuries in a Jan. 30 auto accident.
Ensign did little to organize a serious challenge to Reid last cycle, and the Democrat cruised to a 61 percent to 35 percent victory despite President Bush carrying the state by a 50 percent to 48 percent margin.
Reid has been decidedly tight-lipped when it comes to Goodman and how much or little he has been encouraging the mayor to make the race. Reid told the Associated Press he was "happy to give [Goodman] any advice or counsel that he needs or wants." Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Several Democratic strategists say that the Senate race falls below both Nevada's 3rd District House race and the gubernatorial contest in terms of Reid's 2006 priorities. In the 3rd, a swing district created in 2001, former Reid staffer Tessa Hafen (D) is challenging Rep. Jon Porter (R). In the gubernatorial race, Reid -- as well as former Govs. Bob Miller and Dick Bryan -- have issued a dual endorsement of state Sen. Dina Titus (D) and Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson (D), a move cast by some in Gibson's political world as a victory for their candidate. The governor's mansion is open as Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) is term-limited.
Should Goodman get in the race and secure the strong public and private backing of Reid (and both are less-than-even-money bets at the moment), Ensign could face a serious fight -- although he would still be a favorite in the fall. Carter does not appear to have much of a chance against Ensign.
Regardless of the eventual Democratic opponent, the Ensign camp will be ready. "We are not taking anyone for granted in this race," said Ensign campaign manager Chris Carr. "We are looking forward to an energetic campaign no matter who the opponent is."
February 7, 2006; 10:15 AM ET
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