Joe Heck has a new favorite number: 1,922.
That's the number of votes by which Heck, a Republican, defeated incumbent Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., in the race for Congressional District 3.
The narrow margin shows how evenly voters in the suburban Las Vegas district are divided between Democrats and Republicans. It also may be why Heck is so acutely aware of what could happen in the next election, two years from now, if he strays too far from the political mainstream.
"I certainly don't like nail-biters like this one," said Heck, who in 2008 lost his seat in the state Senate by just 765 votes. "Within two years' time, I will be able to have represented the people of CD3 in a manner in which we would have more support."
It won't be easy.
Republicans, who picked up 60 seats in the House of Representatives and seized control, face having to achieve a delicate balance, by living up to the conservative Tea Party rhetoric many credit with putting them in power, but without overreaching with controversial proposals.
Making it even more difficult, Heck and other freshman Republicans will be forced to reconcile their tough campaign rhetoric on taxes, the economy and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act with the reality that they share power with Democrats, who control the Senate and the White House.
"It is going to turn out the rhetoric on the campaign trail and the reality of government are going to hit hard," said Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "The people in power have just as much interest in staying in power as enacting a revolution, and some of the new people are more interested in the latter."
Heck intends to walk the line by focusing on what constituents don't like about Democratic policies without starting a backlash or alienating independents.
"You can take baby steps," Heck said. "You can make incremental change, re-evaluate where you are and then determine whether or not you need to change some more."
When it comes to committee assignments, Heck, an emergency room physician and Army reservist, said he would like to serve on the Armed Services and Homeland Security committees and perhaps a subcommittee on health, but added, "I'm a good soldier. I'll serve wherever I'm told to serve."
Heck said he favors repealing what he says are unfair taxes and burdens on businesses included in the health care law. But he also wants to keep popular provisions and be careful not to repeal anything without proposing an alternative.
He also favors continuing tax cuts enacted during the administration of President George W. Bush that are set to expire.
"The last thing we can afford to do is pass a tax increase on to the very folks we are trying to get to create jobs," he said.
Ornstein said maintaining the tax cuts will be a tall order, because they will cost the government $4 trillion over the next 10 years, in addition to existing deficit spending.
He said Republicans can't pay for the tax cuts by cutting waste, fraud and abuse. They would need to consider cuts to defense spending or changes in major entitlement programs such as. Social Security to pay for the tax cuts and reduce the deficit, a goal Heck and other Republicans share.
"Democrats would jump all over them and demagogue it to death," Ornstein said of the difficulty of even considering Social Security savings ideas.
As for that thin victory margin over Titus, Heck attributes the closeness of the race in part to a last-minute series of attack ads from the incumbent.
A television version of the attack included a retired Las Vegas police officer complaining that Heck, who is a workers compensation consultant to the Metropolitan Police Department, had denied his claim.
Not only was the attack widespread and late in the campaign, it included allegations Heck couldn't respond to because health privacy laws prohibit a doctor from disclosing details of medical cases they handle.
"We were consistently up, whether we were up 3, up 7, up 10," Heck said. "Then it was a barrage of negativity in the last five days which I truly believe eroded what otherwise would have been a large base of support."
Titus turned down a request for an interview Wednesday. Her spokesman, Andrew Stoddard, said she intends to return to Washington for the post-election lame duck session.
"She was elected to represent the people for two years, and that is what she plans on doing," Stoddard said.
He said Titus plans to return to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, as a political science professor. She has been on sabbatical from her position there.
While the margin of her loss was less than 1 percent of the total vote, Stoddard said Titus did concede to the Republican, and there has been no talk of seeking a recount.
"I think most of the ballots in Clark County are electronic for the most part," Stoddard said. "My assumption on that is that it doesn't seem you would recount much, there is not much in question there."
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.