LAS VEGAS — Nevada is preparing for a special election that will pit Republican factions against one another in a heated battle that could test voters' preferences heading into the 2012 elections.
Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval announced Friday that the election to replace Republican Congressman Dean Heller will take place Sept. 13, giving candidates more than four months to put together their stump speeches and reach out to contributors. The announcement came two days after Sandoval said he would appoint Heller, of northern Nevada, to replace resigning Sen. John Ensign.
"With an election in early September, Nevada will have a full voice as the House begins its work this fall," Sandoval said.
An evolving field of mostly Republican candidates, led by tea party favorite Sharron Angle, had hoped to run in 2012 for the seat. They now face a first-of-its-kind special election to fill a U.S. House vacancy in Nevada.
Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller had said he was waiting for the election date to announce his interpretation of the never-tested special election law. But on Friday, he again refused to offer answers, saying he would delay his ruling until Monday.
There will be no primary under state law, and rules about how candidates should file to run in the general election remain unclear.
The election will likely be regarded as a barometer of where voters stand on the economy, health care, national security and other hot issues only months before Nevada's February presidential caucus, the third in the nation.
Ensign, dogged by ethics allegations and questions about an extramarital affair with a former aide, steps down Tuesday. Heller has not said when he will leave his current post. He will complete Ensign's term ending in 2012.
Angle was the first candidate to announce she wanted the seat. She told supporters in an email Friday that she needs to raise $150,000 immediately to win the seat and accused "left wing" Republicans of conspiring to keep her out of the race.
Angle emerged on the national stage last year when she unsuccessfully challenged Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"Harry Reid and his allies outspent me by millions of dollars on attack ads. By the time I had the money to respond, it was too late," she told supporters. "That's not going to happen again — not with your help."
Republicans hoping to avoid another Angle-led defeat insist the vague special election law allows party leaders to pick their nominees, while Democrats are eager for a free-for-all contest that could tilt the Republican-leaning district in their favor.
Both parties are preparing for legal challenges.
In a twist of fate, the law was passed in 2003, when Heller was secretary of state. He never clarified the language.
"It seems to create some scenarios that don't make sense," said Fred Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College. "This is not democracy at its best."
The might-be GOP contenders include state Sen. Greg Brower, former Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold, GOP chairman Mark Amodei and Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki.
Democrats said Angle does not represent much of a threat after her defeat to Reid.
"Her election for Congress coming up in the special will prove no different," said Shaun Gray, executive director of the Washoe Democrats, the most populous county in Heller's rural Nevada district.
Nevada Republicans will meet in June to strategize and possibly pick a nominee.