Mark Amodei is the Republican party’s choice to be its nominee in congressional District 2. His selection means that Sharron Angle was right about the Republican establishment — Amodei is scared to death about his base, and Democrats actually do have a shot at winning this House seat.
Angle announced she had no intention of running for the seat vacated by Dean Heller. She was critical of the GOP establishment for wanting the party’s central committees to decide on the nominee, taking the decision out of the public’s hands. Granted, that method has been used in the past. But party leaders have made abundantly clear that they want nothing to do with her, and the selection of Amodei — a veteran state senator and former Nevada Mining Association leader known in Carson City as being right of center but not on the far right — was very much an establishment-oriented one.
But Amodei’s days outside the far right appear to be over. He is already tacking to the right in preparation for the general election. Amodei put out an ad suggesting that Chinese soldiers may overrun the United States without action against the national debt, prompting one liberal blogger to make the point that Amodei may not have heard that Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson adore China, as Macau generates huge profits.
Amodei has to tilt further to the right if he wants to get out his party’s base in the special election — whether or not the election ends up being wide-open as Secretary of State Ross Miller wanted, or decided by party central committees. That is up to the courts. Amodei certainly was and is more moderate than the two Republicans who competed with him for the party’s nomination, and he has to be careful that Angle doesn’t turn loose her forces against him — or that the rural, right-wing base gets mad at him and stays home. So, this ad is just the beginning.
Democrats are almost certain to select State Treasurer Kate Marshall as Amodei’s general election opponent. The closest they came to winning the Reno/rural district before was with Jill Derby, a moderate Democrat from Gardnerville. But Reno is where the bulk of Democratic votes are. Marshall isn’t perfect — she isn’t that closely associated with The Biggest Little City — but she might get out a solid Washoe County vote, especially if Amodei is trying to sound like Angle.
Speaking of angles, Democrats have a couple of them with which to hit Amodei, and don’t be surprised if they do. First, he did introduce a tax increase plan in the 2003 legislative session, which instead approved the hike proposed by Gov. Kenny Guinn — but Amodei actually endorsed higher taxes in doing so, making him the devil. Second, he ran the Nevada Mining Association while serving in the legislature and couldn’t see the ethical quagmire that constituted; Democrats can make the point that being pro-mining is fine, but not to that degree.
Will it work? Hard to say. The New York 26th had been Democratic for less than two decades since the Civil War, but Democrats just won that House seat. It probably won’t be repeated in Nevada, but stranger things have happened. Consider this: There’s an office open, and Angle isn’t running for it.
Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.