Tea party backers are eager for Republicans to embrace a strong conservative fiscal and social agenda that could hurt candidates seeking support from the state's growing Hispanic population or its hundreds of unemployed workers. Nevada has the highest jobless rate in the nation at 13.6 percent.
State GOP chairman Mark Amodei also is weighing a congressional run, and the possible race to replace him could fuel internal strife.
The Nevada GOP has been in disarray for years. Republican Jim Gibbons, the state's governor until last fall, faced a series of scandals while in office, and Sen. John Ensign won't seek another term, dogged by ethics allegations.
Republicans do see signs of hope. Clark County GOP Chairman Frank Ricotta said his local party, which includes Las Vegas, has grown from 200 to 900 members since 2008.
"Things are exponentially building," he said.
And the GOP is encouraged by potential candidates like Barbour, who said this week, "If I run, I will compete to win Nevada in the caucus and win Nevada in the general election."
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