Democratic congressional candidate Robert Daskas abruptly withdrew from the race for Nevada's 3rd District on Monday, citing "family considerations."
Daskas, a former prosecutor, had been the Democrats' handpicked candidate to challenge Republican Rep. Jon Porter in what is seen as one of this year's hottest House races in the country.
Immediately after Daskas' surprise announcement, Democrats began touting state Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, as a replacement candidate.
"I'm seriously considering it," Titus said, adding that she planned to make a decision by the end of the week.
Daskas' brief statement didn't elaborate on the reasons behind his surprise exit from a contest in which the political newcomer was thought to have a good shot at victory.
"The Daskas campaign has every confidence that another strong, viable candidate will enter the race and unseat incumbent Jon Porter," the statement said. "Daskas thanks everyone for their support and asks supporters to stay focused on the common goal of changing our representative."
Titus, a 20-year veteran of the state Senate, was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for governor in 2006. She said she was "flattered" by the calls to run from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, party leaders and longtime grass-roots supporters.
She noted that she is well-known throughout the state and in the congressional district, which overlaps a substantial portion of her Senate district. Titus also has a broad base of fundraising support from the gubernatorial race.
"And I don't think anybody works harder than I do, so if I do it, I'll do it all the way," Titus said.
In the gubernatorial race, Titus beat Jim Gibbons by 2 percentage points in the 3rd District.
Titus lives just outside the 3rd District but recently bought a retirement home and shares a family vacation home within the district. Federal candidates are not legally required to live within the districts they represent.
Titus would have to give up her Senate seat to run for Congress at a time when Democrats see great opportunity to take the majority in the upper house of the Legislature. Republicans currently hold the majority by one vote.
Titus said that would be a factor in her decision.
"I'm going to make this decision fast," she said. "...If I'm going to do this, I have to do it gangbusters because I'd be starting late."
Titus was one of several Democratic stars originally sought to run for the seat, but she turned it down.
Democrats' prospects have gotten markedly better since then, with the comparative voter registration for the two parties going from nearly even to a sizable Democratic edge.
There are now 22,559 more Democrats than Republicans in the district, according to the Clark County Election Department, an advantage of 5.8 percent of the total registered voters. The 3rd District incorporates mostly suburban areas of Clark County.
Porter aide Matt Leffingwell said the congressman was ready to fend off any challenge.
"Jon Porter has a record of success, a substantial fundraising advantage and a history of winning tough races," Leffingwell said. "Whoever the Democratic nominee is will start with zero dollars in the bank. Nevadans are worried about electing more Democrats when all the Pelosi Congress has achieved is higher taxes and weaker domestic security."
Porter currently has more than $1 million on hand in his campaign account.
Daskas had raised $453,213 through March 31, according to the Federal Election Commission. He cannot simply turn it over to another candidate, although he can ask his donors to redirect their contributions.
Under FEC rules, Daskas also could donate the funds to charity or to national, state and local party committees. Any contributions out of the campaign fund to other candidates would be subject to state or federal limits.
Another Democrat, accountant Andrew Martin, has been running for the nomination for several months. A spokesman, Vin Gopal, said Martin's campaign would continue despite the apparent lack of interest from the party establishment.
"We've knocked on hundreds of doors and made thousands of phone calls and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars," Gopal said, although he acknowledged most of that money has come from Martin's personal funds. Martin has collected less than $100,000 in donations from others.
"If Dina Titus does enter this race, that would change things drastically and we would have to take a second look at everything," Gopal said. "But Andrew will be the nominee. Mr. Daskas dropping out doesn't change anything."
In Washington, the head of the Democratic Party's campaign arm for the House immediately began talking up Titus.
"Dina Titus would be an excellent candidate with unparalleled experience and support from people in Nevada's 3rd congressional district," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Some Democratic leaders have never stopped carrying a torch for a Titus candidacy, one party official said.
Democrats also sought to recruit Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid and former Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, but were turned down. Daskas was later persuaded to run and quit his job prosecuting some of Clark County's highest-profile murder cases to do so.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., "is of course disappointed that Robert is not going to run, but he is confident the state party will find a candidate that will run a successful campaign and win the election in November," spokesman Jon Summers said.
Reid believed Daskas "was a good candidate. He thought he was doing a good job and was laying the foundation for a competitive campaign," Summers said.
The National Republican Congressional Committee on Monday signaled that Gibbons' preferred line of attack on Titus, the notion that she is a tax-happy liberal, would resurface if she runs for Congress.
"Dina Titus has a long record of raising taxes on the people of Nevada. Surely she doesn't want to drag that record out again," NRCC spokeswoman Julie Shutley said. "Also, two losses in a row would ruin her career in politics."
University of Nevada, Reno, political scientist Eric Herzik agreed that Titus' reputation would precede her in the race.
"There are some clear things to bring up against Dina Titus, some clear negatives," he said. "But this is as hard a race for Porter as it was before."
Contact reporter Molly Ball at email@example.com or 702-387-2919.