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Ross Miller, future Senator?

at 01:15 PM ET, 03/14/2011


Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller presents two election reform measures to lawmakers at the Legislature in Carson City. ( (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison) )
In a political world overrun by partisanship, Ross Miller is trying his best to be a beacon in the storm.

“The thing that appealed to me about the secretary of state job, is that I see it as essentially non-partisan,” Miller, 34, said in an interview with The Fix as part of our “The Rising” series, a look at up-and-coming political stars in both parties. “At the end of the day Nevadans deserve non partisan leadership and clearly the support that I’ve had in the last two elections shows non-partisanship.”

To wit: He raided a local office of conservative scourge ACORN in 2009, charging the group with voter registration fraud. More recently, he proposed that all state contractors be required to check the citizenship status of their employees using the federal E-Verify system. He took on opponents of Republican Sue Lowden during last year’s Senate primary, trying to ban people in ch icken costumes from standing closer than 100 feet from the polls. He declined to prosecute former Gov. Jim Gibbons (R).   

“He has a very legal mind,” said Billy Vassiliadis, a Democratic strategist and CEO of the public relations giant R&R Partners. “He’s not a guy who will jump to a conclusion; he’s very much about reading the facts of the issue and then seeing where the applicable law is at.” (Miller got his start as a prosecutor; he made enough of an impression that “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh cut an ad for him when he ran for Secretary of State in 2006.)

Of course, Miller isn’t completely non-partisan – he’s a Democrat whose father, Bob, served as the Silver State’s governor for a decade in the 1990s. (“Because I came from a political family, I was came to politics with a little bit of a guarded eye,” Miller said of his father’s influence.) And, he is being talked about as a potential candidate for Senate next year in the open seat race to replace retiring Sen. John Ensign (R).

So, will Miller run?

He says that depends on what Las Vegas area Rep. Shelley Berkley does. “I haven’t given the seat much consideration, because right now the race doesn’t make sense,” Miller said. “Shelley Berkley clearly has the right of first refusal.”

Some Democratic strategists privately disagree with that assessment, believing that a statewide elected Democrat without such strong ties to Vegas would fare better. Miller’s name as well as those of state Attorney Catherine Cortez Masto and state Treasurer Kate Marshall are mentioned in that vein. Wealthy businessman Byron Georgiou is already in the race.

Some observers have suggested that if Rep. Dean Heller (R) runs for the seat being vacated by Sen. John Ensign (R) (as he is close to announcing he will) Berkley will demur. She’s got a safe House seat and might not want to bet her future on a race against the relatively popular Heller.

That could open the door for Miller. But there are, as always, complicating factors,

While Miller has fostered a nonpartisan image as Secretary of State, running for the U.S. Senate is an entirely different — and far more partisan — race. (The Fix still remembers South Carolina Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum when she ran for Senate in 2004. A popular figure in the Palmetto State prior to the race, Tenenbaum saw her hopes dashed when then Rep. Jim DeMint attacked her as a cog in the national Democratic machine.)

“He’d have to run with the [Democratic] party banner, he’d have to run with [President] Obama and those numbers are not great right now,” said Sig Rogich, a Republican strategist.

And, at 34, Miller has plenty of time to wait for what he believes to be the right opportunity. That may well be following in his father’s footsteps as governor. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) will be up for re-election in 2014 when Miller will still only be in his late 30s.

“You’ve got other constitutional officers chomping at the bit to run,” said Ryan Erwin, a Republican consultant in the state. “You’ve got a long line of people who seem incredibly eager to do something, anything. Miller doesn’t seem to have that ants-in-the-pants mentality that others have.”

For his part, Miller is decidedly non committal about his political future — even suggesting he might not always be in the game.

.“I loved being a criminal prosecutor, so I could potentially go back and do something in that realm,” he said. “But I also have an MBA, so it’s been a lifelong dream of mine to do something entrepreneurial and start some kind of business.” .

Miller might get to that one day, but for now he seems perfectly comfortable where he is: At the center of the Nevada political conversation.

 
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