The case for Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada

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The Republican Party needs to ring the bell in Nevada if it expects to capture the White House in 2012. It’s not about the Silver State’s six electoral votes, but about its demographics. If the GOP can figure out how to play in Nevada, it stands a fighting chance of winning other Southwestern states as well.

Nevada, where unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies rank among the highest in the nation, consists of a burgeoning Hispanic population, a dwindling conservative population in the northern portion of the state, and a strong contingency of independent/non-affiliated voters in the suburbs. The state has been trending Democratic for the past seven presidential elections. If the eventual Republican presidential nominee is unable to win over the hearts and minds of the Nevada electorate, the GOP’s presidential contender is unlikely to go the distance in other Southwestern battleground states that are showing similar economic and demographic trends.

The GOP’s ability to organize will be on trial in Nevada as well. In 2010, while experiencing one of the greatest political enthusiasm gaps in American electoral history, the Nevada Republican Party was essentially a fundraising and organizing disaster. If the GOP wants to capture the Silver State’s presidential votes, it will need a well-respected, well-organized Senate candidate running alongside the eventual Republican presidential nominee to lay the foundation for an effective ground game.

Now that Sen. John Ensign has decided to do the right thing and retire, current Rep. Dean Heller is the one person who can save Nevada for the GOP.

Preliminary polling indicates that Heller leads all four of his possible Democratic rivals at this juncture. There are other Nevada Republicans, like Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki or Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle, who may choose to vie for Ensign’s open seat, but it doesn’t take famed political prognosticator Larry Sabato or Nevada political guru Jon Ralston to tell you that their candidacies are just not as strong as Heller’s.

Outside of Las Vegas proper, Washoe County has traditionally been a weak spot for Republican candidates running statewide. To offset this problem, the Nevada GOP will need a candidate who can turn out nearly every favorable Silver State voter not residing in these two localities, and who is willing to invest significant shoe leather in unfriendly territory. From being on the ground in Nevada during the 2008 presidential election, we can honestly tell you that Dean Heller is that candidate.

Few members of Congress have been more fiscally responsible than Rep. Heller, who boasts a lifetime American Conservative Union rating in the high 80s. If Nevada, along with America, is to rise up from its current economic doldrums, then Dean Heller needs to be part of that equation.

With the presidency and control of the Senate at stake in 2012, the eyes of the nation will be on the Silver State because Nevada’s electorate could determine both.

Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson are co-founders of CivicForumPAC and advisors to conservative candidates on Internet outreach, communications and campaign strategy.