Nevada GOP chairman Mark Amodei enters House race

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Nevada GOP Chairman Mark Amodei entered the primary race for Nevada's only solidly Republican congressional seat Wednesday after months of hinting at a run.

Amodei, a former state senator who briefly flirted with a contest against Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last year, is expected to make a formal announcement later this week and to step down from his party post in May, Republican National Committee representative Heidi Smith told The Associated Press.

Smith said Amodei confirmed his intent Wednesday night. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

Amodei will be running to replace Republican Rep. Dean Heller in an already crowded primary that could be Nevada's most watched GOP contest of 2012.

Tea party favorite Sharron Angle and retired Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold are already running for the post. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki is also eyeing the seat, but has said he will not make an announcement until after the Nevada legislative session closes in June. State Sen. Greg Brower might also test a run.

Heller announced last month that he was running for Republican Sen. John Ensign's seat. Ensign chose not to run for re-election to avoid an ugly contest that would have focused on his extramarital affair with a former staffer.

Amodei's looming exit from the state party has been closely monitored by GOP leaders across the nation for months. His successor will become the face of the party as Nevada Republicans prepare to host a GOP presidential caucus early next year, just after New Hampshire and Iowa hold their contests.

"No one is surprised because he has been talking about it," Nevada Republican Party executive director Cory Adair said. "I know he has been planning it for quite a while."

The Las Vegas Review-Journal broke the news of Amodei's budding campaign Wednesday. Amodei told the newspaper he hopes to raise $100,000 in two months.

Angle, who ran for the U.S. Senate last year and lost to Reid, was the first to enter the race and is expected to benefit from a field of generous small and national donors. She raised $709,889 and spent $548,095 from January through March, leaving her with $176,000, according to federal election reports.

Gov. Brian Sandoval will likely take an active role in selecting the party's new leader, although he has not named a preferred candidate, Adair said.

Nevada is in the midst of redrawing its congressional districts, but the rural northern seat held by Heller is expected to remain a majority Republican district.

"The party is fairly confident in retaining it even in a crowded primary or a tough general election," Adair said.

Still, the rowdy primary could be Democrats' best hope for turning the GOP-friendly district into a Democratic victory. Possible contenders include former Democratic party chairwoman Jill Derby, state Assemblywoman Debbie Smith and state Treasurer Kate Marshall.

Heller beat Derby 50-45 percent in 2006 and by a 52-41 percent margin in 2008.


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