LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller announced Thursday that he’ll seek re-election to the Senate in 2018, ending speculation that he would run for governor.

Heller announced his plan in a statement on Facebook and through Twitter, saying he believed he could have the biggest impact for Nevada if he ran for re-election as Nevada’s senior senator.

“Serving as governor would be an enormous honor, but I am looking forward to being Nevada’s strongest voice on Capitol Hill,” he wrote.

Heller has held the seat since 2011, when he was appointed to finish the term of Republican Sen. John Ensign after Ensign resigned amid an ethics investigation. He narrowly defeated Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley for the seat in 2012, becoming the only Republican Senate candidate to win that year in a state that President Barack Obama carried.

Observers speculated whether Heller would try to leverage his incumbency advantage to retain that seat in 2018, or whether he would return to Nevada and seek the governorship when popular but term-limited Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval leaves office.

Even with Heller out, several other Republicans are seen as potential gubernatorial contenders. They include Attorney General Adam Laxalt, whose campaign consultant didn’t comment Thursday on Laxalt’s 2018 plan.

A representative for potential candidate Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison also declined to comment on his plans, although Hutchison tweeted that he was “Looking forward to supporting my friend @DeanHeller’s campaign for U.S. Senate, keeping up the fight for what’s right for Nevada.”

Democrats, fresh off a tough but triumphant campaign to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Harry Reid with former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, have fewer obvious choices for a 2018 Senate candidate.

They moved quickly to criticize their new opponent, calling Heller “too chicken to run for governor” and “cravenly silent on Donald Trump’s rigged Cabinet picks.”

“Dean Heller has no core,” Nevada State Democratic Party Chari Roberta Lange said. “As Senator, Dean Heller has skated by as a sub-par and lazy Washington politician with the lack of work product to show for it.”


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