Cathleen Allison, Associated Press
State Republican Party Chairman Mark Amodei announces his intent to run for Nevada's 2nd Congressional District during a press conference Monday morning, May 9, 2011, in Carson City, Nev.

CARSON CITY, Nev. — State Republican Party Chairman Mark Amodei on Monday officially joined the race for Nevada's 2nd Congressional District, adding to a growing field of candidates hoping to replace now former Rep. Dean Heller in a special election this fall.

"It's no secret I've been interested in this race quite a while now," Amodei told reporters at a news conference in Carson City.

With a special election set for Sept. 13, "for these folks who are in it, it's time to be in it," he said.

Amodei is a former state assemblyman and served three terms in the state Senate. He is also former president of the Nevada Mining Association and became state GOP chairman in May 2010.

He said he will suspend active party duties and will resign his chairmanship.

Heller, a three-term Republican from Carson City, was sworn in Monday as Nevada's newest U.S. senator, having been appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval to replace John Ensign. Ensign resigned amid an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee into his affair with the wife of a former top aide, Doug Hampton, and allegations he helped Hampton find lobbying work.

Hampton has since been indicted by a federal grand for illegally lobbying the senator's staff. Federal law prohibits a former senior Senate aide from lobbying the Senate for one year after terminating employment.

Amodei said his experience in the Legislature, as state party chairman, and as an attorney in private practice make him the best qualified candidate.

Other Republicans who've said they will run include Sharron Angle, a tea party favorite who won the Republican nomination but lost a U.S. Senate bid last fall to Democrat Harry Reid; retired Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold, who was skipper of the USS Cole when it was attacked by terrorists in 2000; and state Sen. Greg Brower, former U.S. attorney for Nevada.

State Treasurer Kate Marshall and fellow Democrats Jill Derby and Nancy Price, both former university regents, also have announced plans to run in the special election.

Nevada has never had a special election to fill a vacancy in the House of Representatives. Under rules set by Secretary of State Ross Miller, anyone interested in running can file May 23-25.

A crowded Republican field could benefit Angle, a perennial candidate who has a solid grass roots core of supporters, and in turn help Democrats take the sprawling rural district for the first time.

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The state GOP has filed a lawsuit challenging the rules outlined by Miller, a Democrat. The suit argues that without a primary, it should be up to party central committees to select their candidate to appear on the ballot.

A judge Monday said he will hear arguments in the case May 19.

Amodei said he doesn't believe his position within the party gives him an advantage however the candidates end up being chosen.

"You have to run a campaign," he said, adding, "I need more votes than anybody else in the race."