- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2016

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Three-term Republican Rep. Joe Heck filed paperwork Monday to run for U.S. Senate, making official his bid to replace retiring Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and turn a seat held by one of the most polarizing and powerful Democrat officeholders in the country to Republican hands.

The emergency room doctor and one-star Army Reserves general filled out paperwork at the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office in Las Vegas, formalizing a campaign that started last July. Heck threw his hat in the ring a few months after 76-year-old Reid, slowed by an exercise accident that affected his eyesight, announced he wouldn’t seek a sixth term, and after popular Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said he wouldn’t run either.

“It’s about who’s the right person at the right time to take care of the needs of Nevadans, and I believe I’m that person,” Heck said in an interview.

The stakes are high in the swing-state race, which comes as Democrats try to reclaim a Senate majority they lost in the conservative wave of the 2014 midterm election. The race is expected to attract heaving outside campaign spending as one of a handful of target seats that could determine which party controls the Senate.

Heck’s main opponent is Democratic former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who wants to be the nation’s first Latina senator and keep the seat in Democratic hands. Her campaign has sought to tie Heck to bombastic Republican front-runner Donald Trump and consolidate support from voters distressed by the billionaire businessman’s rise.

Heck has navigated a careful course on the Trump question, saying he’s spreading his message to Nevada voters independent of the volatile Republican nominating process. In spite of early criticism of Trump’s immigration rhetoric, Heck has said lately that he will support the party’s eventual nominee.

Trump scored a huge victory in the Nevada caucuses in February and drove turnout that more than doubled 2012 Republican caucus levels. A wave of energized voters turning out specifically for Trump could sway lower-profile races like Heck‘s, especially as Democratic turnout in Nevada is down from levels seen in the 2008 Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton matchup.

Heck’s campaign has tried to frame the race as a proxy war against Reid, who’s loathed by many in the conservative base. Reid endorsed Cortez Masto shortly after she announced her candidacy in April.

Cortez Masto is expected to register as a candidate on Tuesday, but fundraising and advertising in the race began months ago. The former attorney general ended 2015 with $2 million cash on hand, while Heck ended the year with $2.9 million in his war chest; both raised more than $1 million in the last quarter of the calendar year.

Both have played up their family histories as they introduce themselves to Nevada’s diverse electorate. Cortez Masto announced English and Spanish commercials this month emphasizing her Italian and Mexican roots, while Heck introduced himself to voters with a campaign video highlighting his maternal grandparents’ immigration to the U.S.

Heck said he was confident he could win over minority votes in spite of calls from fellow Republicans in the presidential race to deport all immigrants in the country illegally. “I don’t think you can find, round up and afford to deport 11 million people,” he said Monday.

He added that he’d won three times in a southern Nevada congressional district that is 19 percent Hispanic and 16 percent Asian-American.

“They know who I am,” he said. “They know where I am on the issues and what I’ve done for those communities, and I believe the relationships that we’ve created will endure whomever the nominee is in the presidential race.”

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