Nevada’s constitution mandates that a special election to fill an open congressional seat be held within 180 days of it being vacated. If Heller takes office on May 3, the special election would have to be held by early November.
As for how candidates for the special election would be chosen, however, the state’s law is vague, though it specifically forbids holding a primary. A number of interpretations seem possible—ranging from nominees being selected by state party leaders to a wide-open ballot with a range of candidates allowed to compete. The decision on how to interpret the law will fall to Nevada’s Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller, who succeeded Heller in the post after his 2006 election.
The Republican establishment in the state has long had a rocky relationship with Angle. Her primary win last year over the favored establishment candidate, former state party Chair Sue Lowden, pitted her against many members of the Republican old guard.
Ford O’Connell, co-creator of the conservative initiative TurnNevadaRed, thinks Angle is already being marginalized by the state’s Republican establishment. “I think what is slightly ironic is that Angle had raised $710,000 this year, and early last week she retired her debt [from the 2010 Senate campaign],” says O’Connell. “I don’t think she would have put that toward the debt had she known that Ensign would retire. Folks in the party may have kept that from her.”
O’Connell sees Nevada’s Democrats wanting to “stoke the Angle fires” as much as possible in order to pit the state’s Tea Party activists against its Republican establishment, and suggested that Secretary of State Miller might interpret the vague election laws in a way that did so. If Miller’s interpretation produces a “cattle call” election, where nominees are not chosen directly by the state’s parties, O’Connell says, then Angle has a good chance to win due to her high name recognition and loyal following. If she did win, it would seriously diminish the influence of the state’s Republican establishment.