Horsford told The Associated Press he will formally declare his candidacy Thursday in North Las Vegas. He hopes to succeed Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, who is running for the U.S. Senate in 2012.
“It’s a decision that I’ve taken very seriously,” Horsford said Wednesday. “I’m very proud of many of the things we have been able to accomplish in the state Senate and I would like to build on some of those accomplishments in Congress.”
Horsford, 38, was elected in a heavily Democratic, North Las Vegas-based district in 2004 and became the state’s first black majority leader in 2008. His ascension to one of Nevada’s most powerful posts is notable in this western state, where black voters complained for decades of disenfranchisement. When Horsford became Senate majority leader, he was only the fourth black to serve as a state senator since the Nevada Legislature first convened in 1864.
Republicans have been counting on Horsford’s much rumored run for Congress to help them take back the Senate, where Democrats have a slim 11-10 majority.
“This is great for Senate Republicans,” said Sen. Michael Roberson, chairman of the GOP’s Senate election campaign. “The Senate Democrats are left with a very thin bench. They are left with folks who don’t have experience running a campaign.”
Horsford and others who have declared their candidacies have forced an early start to the 2012 elections even though voters do not know for whom they will be able to cast a ballot in those races.
A court-appointed panel this month is drawing new voter maps based on Census data, and the results could be finalized in November. Nevada’s existing voter boundaries are expected to change drastically as the state’s three House districts are divided to create four seats. Nevada was the fastest growing state during the last decade, earning it another voice in Congress.
The Democrats’ other top legislative leader, Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, was the first to announce his candidacy. Former Democratic Rep. Dina Titus and Democratic state Sens. Ruben Kihuen and John Lee are also vying for a seat. Among the Republicans, Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei will likely seek re-election.
Horsford is expected to run in a district that includes a substantial number of minorities, but he will have to win over white voters. Blacks in Nevada made up 8 percent of the population in 2010, compared to 12.6 nationally.
Horsford said the evolving district lines and candidate list did not shape his decision to run. He noted that the future of tourism-dependent Nevada is linked to the fortunes of other states, and concluded that he could do more to help the state in Washington, D.C.
“Right now, there is no greater priority than putting people back to work and helping to get some security from those who have jobs,” he said.
As the majority leader, Horsford was an early critic of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s efforts to reduce education dollars and lobbied for higher taxes to pay for social services. He is a loyal Democratic player, serving as a national Democratic committee member and campaigning for President Barack Obama in 2008. Horsford’s campaign website features a picture of his family with Obama in the Oval Office.
Republicans and Democrats alike describe him as charming, but a tough negotiator. In one instance, Horsford ordered all senators into their chamber and told sergeants-at-arms to find three missing lawmakers after the Legislature failed to compromise on public employee and retiree benefits during the 2009 session.
“We could argue all night and get up and shake hands,” said Republican Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea. “He definitely has political savvy and clarity.”
But critics complain that Horsford’s leadership style lacks compromise. Roberson said Horsford failed to put out a budget plan after weeks of blasting Sandoval’s fiscal vision, championed a $1.2 billion tax proposal and refused to pass “fair” voter district maps. Sandoval twice vetoed maps passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature, labeling them unacceptably partisan.
“He clearly did not work across the aisle,” Roberson said. “It was more his way or his way.”
Horsford countered that he worked with Republican Assemblyman Joe Hardy on health care legislation.
“I am known for working across party lines to get things done,” he said. “What I don’t do is I don’t compromise my ideals and convictions. I don’t sell my constituents out.”