By Timothy Pratt
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - The former commander of the USS Cole, the Navy destroyer bombed by al Qaeda in Yemen in 2000, officially entered the race on Tuesday for the Nevada congressional seat vacated by Dean Heller.
Kirk Lippold, 52, formally registered his candidacy less than a week after Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle, who gained national exposure for her failed 2010 bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, bowed out of the contest.
Lippold retired from the Navy in 2007, a year after he was disqualified from promotion to the rank of captain. The U.S. Navy secretary at the time found Lippold's actions as the Cole's skipper prior to the deadly attack on his warship failed to meet the high standards expected of commanding officers.
Seventeen U.S. sailors lost their lives, and the Cole was badly damaged, when a boat filled with explosives pulled alongside the destroyer and blew up while the Navy vessel was refueling in Yemen's Aden harbor in October 2000.
A Navy investigation found security lapses on the Cole before the attack, but Lippold was not punished, a decision supported by then-Defense Secretary William Cohen.
In a statement announcing his filing, Lippold, a resident of Carson City, cited his 26 years in the Navy and cast himself as a "new conservative voice in the political landscape."
Since leaving the Navy, Lippold has launched a private executive training firm, gone on the lecture circuit and served as senior fellow of Military Families United, a nonprofit advocacy group for military veterans and their families.
He is one of 11 Republicans currently seeking to succeed Heller in representing Nevada's 2nd congressional district, encompassing mostly rural parts of the state and sections of Clark County outside of Las Vegas.
Heller was appointed in April to fill the nearly two years left in the Senate term of fellow Republican John Ensign, who resigned effective May 3 under pressure from a Senate ethics probe stemming from his extramarital affair with the wife of a legislative aide.
Under rules set by a Nevada judge earlier this month, each major political party has until June 30 to choose its own nominee to run in a special general election on September 13.
The Democratic Party has petitioned Nevada's Supreme Court to overturn that decision and open the election to all qualified candidates of any party.
In the meantime, the Nevada Republican Party Central Committee plans to meet June 18 to select its nominee from a crowded field of contenders that also includes the chairman of the state party, Mark Amodei, and Greg Brower, a state senator.
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Jerry Norton)