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After Ensign, Nevada Is A Battleground On Steroids After Ensign, Nevada Is A Battleground On Steroids

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After Ensign, Nevada Is A Battleground On Steroids


John Ensign's sudden departure will likely set up a House special election that could be a barometer for 2012.(KAREN BLEIER/Getty Images)

I just wrote about the national importance of the Nevada Senate race in my column this week, and Sen. John Ensign's sudden decision to resign early next month makes this state even more pivotal for the White House and congressional campaign strategists.

Nevada has now become a battleground state on steroids. It's expected to be one of the most hotly-contested states for the presidential race, is hosting a high-profile Senate showdown, and there could be as many as three competitive House races (in the state's four districts, after redistricting). Here's what Ensign's decision means for the state of play in Nevada politics:

1. Slight boost to Heller for the Senate seat. Republican sources said that the timing of Ensign's resignation had nothing to do with assisting GOP Rep. Dean Heller in the Senate race--the two have had a notably chilly relationship in recent years--and had everything to do with the timing of the Senate Ethics Committee's investigation.

But Heller is likely to be appointed to serve the rest of Ensign's term, which would give him the advantage of incumbency in a race. While the Senate race looked like a battle between two members of Congress who held equal standing, now Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley will have to make the case that Heller should be unseated after serving time as a senator. It's not an impossible task, but it's slightly more difficult than running for a purely open seat.

2. Nevada becomes an even bigger battleground. It's telling that President Obama was campaigning in Reno, Nev., today--Heller's home district--a part of the country that is critical for his reelection.

3. A very special election. If Heller gets appointed to the Senate, his House seat suddenly becomes the scene of the first major election of 2011--one that could give us a lot of clues about the trajectory of 2012. A House special election, in northern Nevada, would be an early test of both parties' messaging, particularly when it comes to competing budgetary proposals.

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