Dean Heller, currently a Congressman from Nevada’s 2nd Congressional district, will be chosen as the Senate replacement for John Ensign, who resigned in disgrace rather than face questions about his adulterous affair and cash payoffs to his mistress and her husband.

Gov. Brian Sandoval appointed Rep. Dean Heller today to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. John Ensign.

Sandoval said last week that he would appoint Ensign’s replacement before his May 3 resignation. The appointment of Heller was widely expected.

Sun columnist Jon Ralston reported the appointment late this morning.

Heller already planned to run for Senate in Nevada, in a race that could be one of the nation’s closest. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) is planning to run, and the race has tightened in recent weeks. A PPP poll shows Berkley within four points, a nine-point swing in her direction from early January.

Heller will have the power of incumbency, but he’ll also be the only politician in America to vote for the Paul Ryan Medicare phase-out budget twice, once in each chamber. He already voted for the budget in the House, and he’ll be in the Senate when Harry Reid calls up the Ryan budget for a vote sometime in May. That raises the potential for a major backlash in senior-heavy Nevada, where Heller now has to represent the whole state.

This also creates a vacancy in the House delegation. NV-02 is up for grabs and there’s a bit of confusion over how that vacancy will be filled. State rules seem to show that the parties nominate their own candidate without a primary, but independent candidates can get on the ballot as well. That raises the possibility for a spoiler, potentially Sharron Angle, who had already planned to run for this seat but will not get the nod, in all likelihood, from the Republican Party in the state. Even without spoilers, expect that NV-02 special election to be competitive.

Here’s Harry Reid’s statement on the Heller appointment:

“I welcome Dean to the Senate. As his responsibilities shift to representing all Nevadans, rather than a single district of our state, I am confident he will work with me and members of both parties to address the serious challenges facing Nevada and the nation.”

David Dayen

David Dayen