Outmatched in experience and outgunned on the fundraising front, state Sen. Ruben Kihuen on Tuesday dropped his bid for Congress, clearing the way for former Rep. Dina Titus to probably win the Democratic seat in November and return to the House.
Titus had raised $422,000 so far, more than twice as much money as Kihuen, a Latino lawmaker in the middle of his first state Senate term. A poll Titus released showed she could beat Kihuen in the June primary by a 7-to-1 margin in the 1st Congressional District.
Titus is seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who is running for the Senate against Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. More than half of the registered voters in the urban Las Vegas House district are Democrats compared with one-quarter Republicans, making Titus a lock to win the seat.
Kihuen acknowledged he was in an uphill battle. Democratic leaders such as U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., had encouraged his congressional run, however, to boost Latino turnout in 2012, including for President Barack Obama's re-election. Reid had invited Kihuen to Washington to watch Obama's State of the Union address to Congress a couple of weeks ago, raising his profile.
On Tuesday, Reid quickly endorsed Titus and praised Kihuen, saying the bilingual Las Vegas lawmaker "remains a rising star in Nevada and the Democratic Party."
Kihuen said it wasn't in the best interests of Democrats to continue his campaign, which was dividing party loyalties and making core supporters have to choose sides. Titus earlier Tuesday announced endorsements from several union groups, for example.
"Unfortunately, the reality is that continuing my efforts to win in what would promise to be a resource draining primary at this time is not in the best interest for me, my family, my community and my party," Kihuen said in a statement Tuesday.
Kihuen said he would work to help re-elect Obama and to campaign for all the Democratic candidates up and down the ticket, including Berkley for Senate and Titus for Congress.
"I will do all I can to encourage Latinos to make our voices heard through the electoral process -- especially in November," he said. "For me, serving Nevada has always come first."
Nevada's population is 26 percent Hispanic. Latinos have become a powerful force at the ballot box, accounting for about 15 percent of the electorate in both 2010 and 2008. Hispanics helped elect Reid in 2010 and Obama in 2008 with more than seven out of 10 Latinos voting for the president.
The 1st Congressional District includes a population that is about 40 percent Hispanic.
Titus sounded relieved that she would not face a primary challenge. Kihuen had called her earlier in the day to announce that he was dropping out, she said in an interview.
"It came as a surprise to me," Titus said. "I've known him for a long time. I think he's making a great sacrifice for the party, and I want to make sure that his team becomes a part of our team to help the president get re-elected. We go away from this with no bad feelings on both sides."
Titus, 61, served one term in Congress representing Nevada's 3rd Congressional District before she was defeated in 2010 by Republican Rep. Joe Heck. Previously, she served in the state Senate for 20 years, including as the minority leader. Titus also ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2006.
Reports filed earlier this year with the Federal Election Commission showed Titus raised nearly $422,000 in this election cycle and had $327,000 cash on hand as of Dec. 31.
Kihuen had raised about $189,000 and reported $135,000 cash on hand as of Dec. 31.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.