When freshman U.S. Rep. Joe Heck went to Congress in 2011, Nevada's economy was stalled and the state had the highest unemployment and home foreclosure rates in the nation.
Looking to tackle the problems, Heck introduced a series of bills. One could draw more free-spending tourists to Nevada by speeding up visa approvals. Another aims to improve job training, and a third would give foreclosed homeowners a "second chance" to buy a house.
"We've started to make progress," Heck said. "I want to continue to work on those issues."
Heck, a Republican, is asking voters for a second chance himself, running for re-election in 2012 to the 3rd Congressional District, which is one of the most competitive House seats in the nation.
Two years ago, Heck barely ousted U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., by 1,748 votes when she had a big Democratic voter registration advantage - 42.3 percent of the electorate in the Clark County district compared with 36 percent Republican. But of independent voters, about one-fifth sided more with Heck, who helped the GOP take control of the House in 2011.
This year, Democrats are trying to retake the House and have targeted Heck for defeat.
For now, Heck has a slight GOP voter registration edge - 1 percentage point over Democrats - after redistricting, a once-a-decade process that reshaped the House seat boundaries.
Heck also had $1 million cash in his campaign coffers at the end of March, giving him a big financial advantage over his opponents in a race where the major political parties and outside groups are expected to spend millions of dollars as well to influence the outcome.
In the June 12 Republican primary, Heck faces only one opponent, a supporter of GOP presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who shares Paul's libertarian and small-government ideals.
On the other side, six Democrats are vying for the nomination, led by Nevada Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, who had a healthy $479,000 in the bank at the end of March. He's been anointed by party leaders, including U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and faces largely unknown primary challengers.
Here's a look at the candidates:
■ Joe Heck - a former state senator, Heck is an emergency room physician and colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves who has been called up to serve in Iraq several times, most recently in January 2008. He has experience in closely fought political races. In 2008, he lost re-election to the state Senate when his Democratic opponent beat him by 765 votes, thanks largely to her party's efforts to boost voter registration and excitement to help Barack Obama win Nevada and the White House.
In Washington, Heck has won assignments on the House Armed Services Committee and the Education and the Workforce Committee - military- and jobs-focused panels - as well as the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, becoming the only freshman on the panel.
Heck has often sided with fellow House Republicans in pushing for federal budget cuts and deficit reduction measures. He voted against allowing Obama to increase the nation's debt limit.
Yet, he also has gone against the GOP leaders at times. Heck was the only Republican dissenter when the House majority voted to kill the Federal Housing Administration Refinance Program. It aims to help people seeking to refinance homes worth less than they paid for them. Heck argued the program needs to be reformed, but is important to address the deep housing crisis in Southern Nevada.
■ Chris Dyer - Dyer said he decided to run against Heck because no other Republican had stepped up and he believes the incumbent is voting "in lock-step" with the House majority on most issues. He ran for Congress once before, in 2008 in another district, but did not make it out of the GOP primary.
A two-time veteran, Dyer served in the Navy during the first Gulf War and the Army during the current Iraq war. He said he wasn't deployed to the war zone, but worked on intelligence matters.
Dyer said he is a big supporter of Paul, who wants to slash the federal budget drastically, not just slow spending, end U.S. military involvement in far-flung wars and other conflicts, and boost states rights and the privacy of individuals.
"We're wasting our money in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and we're wasting our troops," Dyer said. "They've done so many tours they're broken. They're either getting killed or coming back broken."
■ John Oceguera - The Nevada Assembly speaker couldn't run for re-election because of term limits and instead decided to try for a political promotion backed by Democratic Party leaders.
Oceguera, like many candidates taking on incumbents, is running against an unpopular Congress.
"I think we've got a lot of people struggling here in Nevada, and I see a Washington that seems to be doing anything but solving problems," Oceguera said. "What's worse, I see too many people in Washington trying to hurt Medicare and give tax breaks to Wall Street."
As for Heck's proposed housing bill, Oceguera dismissed it as "too little, too late." Oceguera was among Nevada legislative leaders who pressed for a law to create a state foreclosure mediation program that's helping homeowners stay in their homes by forcing banks to negotiate refinancing.
"It forces people on both sides to sit down and have a discussion," said Oceguera, who hasn't offered any specific federal legislative proposals. "And that wasn't happening prior to that."
■ James Franklin Haning II - At age 31, Haning is the youngest candidate in the race and the only openly gay contender. He said he would push for same-sex marriage rights at the federal level. He also wants gay people to be protected from workplace discrimination by being included in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
In general, he said he's tired of "career politicians" serving in Congress who are more interested in their own interests than in working together to create jobs and protect the middle class.
"We need fresh ideas," Haning said, adding that he's disappointed the Nevada Democratic Party isn't encouraging competition in the primary. "We're here to present an alternative."
■ Stephen H. Frye - A former Green Beret and a psychiatrist, Frye said he is making his first run at political office because he wants to legalize drugs and make an industry out of hemp production to create jobs. He's written a book on the failure of the U.S. "war on drugs," which he said has created a new criminal class of Americans filling up prisons and costing governments billions of dollars.
"The drug war is lost. We can never win it," said Frye, who noted several counties have legalized drugs such as The Netherlands and Portugal and have seen a drop in overall use.
"I have used marijuana half a dozen times in my country," he said. "It's a very enjoyable drug. If it were legal in the country I would do it more often. But I'm promoting minimizing drug use."
■ Jess "Jake" Holder - The former Naval officer is studying political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
He's against "big business corporate greed hurting America," such as Exxon Mobile Corp., making $50 billion in annual income while gasoline prices rise to around $4 a gallon, he said.
"I have a genuine concern and compassion for my fellow man, and I love my country," Holder said when asked why he's running. "I hope I can make decisions that will benefit people."
■ Barry Michaels - If his name sounds familiar, it is: Michaels has run for Congress three times before, every two years since 2006 - twice as a Democrat and once in 2010 as an independent.
A former white-collar criminal in the 1990s, Michaels said he pleaded guilty "out of convenience" to using about $50,000 to buy a house from funds he and his partners had raised to start an airline. He said the money was all accounted for and the charges grew out of a dispute with investors.
In Congress, Michaels said, he would propose issuing savings bonds to be used to fund small business loans to help start ups and create jobs.
"It would be just like we funded World War II - with savings bonds," he said
■ Gerald "Jerry" Sakura - Sakura is running against the big-money Washington lobbyists funding most mainstream candidates . He called himself the "sacrificing-seniors-coffee-party candidate" because he wants to use his retirement to work for Americans.
"As retirees who have lived the American dream, I pledge to spend two years discussing the issues and not raising money," Sakura said, adding he has plenty of free time to devote to Congress.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.