The Crowded Democratic Primary Brewing in Harry Reid's Backyard

Reid has a reputation for getting his way in Nevada Democratic primaries. But the kingmaker looks set to let Democrats fight over a Las Vegas-based House seat.

Sen. Harry Reid has a history of nipping Democratic primary competitions in the bud, offering help to favored candidates and leaning on others to get out of the way and save the party's resources for general elections. Mere hours after Reid announced his retirement in March, he went on the radio to endorse a prospective successor.

Yet as Reid sorts out Democratic nominations around the country, including one for his own seat, Nevada Democrats are jostling for position to run in one of their party's top target House districts. And they expect Reid to let them fight amongst themselves—at least for now.

At least eight Democrats have voiced interest in running for the state's left-leaning 4th Congressional District, which went to the GOP in 2014 as Democratic turnout cratered. Many expected Steven Horsford, the former Democratic representative who lost last year, to attempt a rematch against Rep. Cresent Hardy, but Horsford announced last month that he'd stay in the private sector, throwing  the race to be Hardy's opponent wide open.

Several potential candidates see themselves as Reid protégés, well-placed to win the Nevada machine Reid runs over to their side. But none expect Reid to get involved early, despite a history of moves to bypass expensive and bitter primaries over the years.

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"I don't think he wants to get in right now and lower the boom," said Nevada-based Democratic political consultant Billy Vassiliadis, an adviser to Reid whose firm now employs Horsford. "They'll have to work for it."

One candidate, state Sen. Ruben Kihuen, has already made his campaign official. Reid alums and advisers already signed up to put Kihuen in Congress once before, though Kihuen dropped his 2012 bid in another district when Rep. Dina Titus's comeback candidacy gained too much traction. Former state Assemblywoman Lucy Flores got help from Reid in her losing run for lieutenant governor in 2014 as well, and many observers expect her to seek the 4th District seat.

If the candidates are left to their own devices, the House primary will come down to a fundraising race, said Andres Ramirez, a Kihuen advisor. At least that's how Ramirez hopes Kihuen can separate himself Flores, who didn't raise much money in her statewide run.

"I think we're going to get to October and if Lucy wants to be considered a viable candidate, she's going to need significant fundraising in the bank account," Ramirez said. Flores did not respond to requests for comment.

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Another Reid-supported one-time candidate who could join them: former state Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, who has remained quiet about the race but told National Journal he is considering a bid. Oceguera lost to GOP Rep. Joe Heck in the neighboring 3rd District in 2012.

Considering how many friends of Reid's are interested in the race, Oceguera said none can take an endorsement for granted, especially considering Reid's preoccupation with Senate races around the country.

"It'll be a difficult choice for him. There are some good candidates there," Oceguera said. "But I don't sense that at the current time he's really engaging in this race. I think he's concerned about Democrats getting elected in the Senate."

Kihuen, Flores, and Oceguera tout Reid's support from past races, but they're not the only ones who could make this a chaotic primary. Ramirez said he considers education nonprofit executive Susie Lee the strongest opposition to Kihuen. And four others have publicly said they'll consider entering the race: state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, state Sen. Pat Spearman, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, and Las Vegas Councilman Ricki Barlow.

If the field doesn't whittle itself down on its own through a fundraising competition, Vassiliadis said Reid will likely step in. But how or when he does that is unpredictable.

"He has his own timetable," Vassiliadis said. "He'll play in this, I'm just not sure when."

Whoever wins the Democratic primary still must get through Hardy in 2016, though the Democrat will likely be favored. President Obama won the district by 10 points in 2012. Hardy and his team, meanwhile, claim not to be focusing on the campaign to face him just yet. Consultant Scott Scheid said Hardy "is focused on doing the best job possible at constituent services."