For political junkies, this Tuesday is the equivalent of Selection Sunday for sports fans. That's when NCAA basketball teams learn whether they're picked to compete in the March Madness tournament.
The Runnin' Rebels of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas often make the cut.
On Tuesday, Nevada will learn whether it gets a new congressional district. That would give the state the right to elect a fourth representative to the House in 2012, boosting its political power.
The news will come with the official release of the U.S. Census. Every 10 years, it determines the estimated population of each state. If a state's population grows, it is awarded another representative in the 435-seat House, while shrinking states lose congressional districts. All states get at least one.
Nevada, which has a population of about 2.7 million, is expected to win a fourth seat, according to most predictions, despite a loss of 100,000 residents in the past two years as the economy soured.
The Cook Political Report put out a preview that handicaps the states' chances. It reflects a general nationwide population shift toward the West and away from the East.
"For some states, there isn't much suspense," said the preview, released Friday. "Georgia, Nevada, and Utah are all but certain to gain an additional seat in the House, while Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are all but certain to lose a seat and Ohio is all but certain to lose two seats."
From there, the sports-style suspense sets in.
"However, much like NCAA basketball teams anticipate Selection Sunday, some states are 'on the bubble' and won't know how many seats they will have until Tuesday," the Cook report said.
According to population estimates released by Election Data Services, Cook said it appears that 10 states are competing for what would be the five remaining House seats under its scenario.
South Carolina, Washington, California and North Carolina are all in the running for one additional seat, according to Cook. Minnesota and Illinois are hoping to preserve their current seats. Meanwhile, Texas, could gain three or four new seats. Florida and Arizona are both in line to gain either one or two new seats, Cook said, while New York will lose either one or two of its seats.
Before Tuesday, the Census Bureau estimated the 2010 U.S. population at 310 million. That means, ideally, each of the 435 congressional districts should have about 700,000 residents.
Nevada picked up its third congressional district after the 2000 census, which came in the middle of a two-decade long period in which the state was the fastest-growing in the nation.
Congressional District 3 was drawn to be competitive, with about half Republicans and half Democrats living in the region, according to voter registration. The district since has trended Democrat, although freshman Rep. Dina Titus just lost re-election to Republican Joe Heck in a tight race.
If Nevada does get a fourth district, its outlines will be drawn by lawmakers during the upcoming legislative session. It begins Feb. 7 and promises to provide a bit of its own March Madness.
Democrats, who control both the state Senate and Assembly, will want to draw the new district to favor their own political party. Republicans will argue for more equal representation and will want to make sure that Heck's district leans more toward the GOP so his re-election is assured.
Whatever reapportionment plan the Nevada Legislature approves must be signed by Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval, a Republican, who probably would veto any plan that would hurt his party.
Most observers predict a compromise, with lawmakers drawing two GOP-friendly districts, including Heck's in the south and Rep. Dean Heller's covering the north and rural Nevada, and two that lean Democrat, including the new one and Rep. Shelley Berkley's seat in Southern Nevada.
The redistricting will set the political direction of Nevada for a decade. It also will make the 2012 election a potential elbows-out scrabble for open congressional seats as Heller and Berkley both consider running against U.S. Sen. John Ensign, the Republican damaged by an extramarital affair.
-- Laura Myers
earmarks kill spending bill
When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the plug last week on a massive federal spending bill, $232 million headed to Nevada projects went down the drain.
Reid withdrew the $1.3 trillion spending bill Thursday evening after failing to gather enough Republican support to overcome a threatened filibuster.
Conservative budget hawks had attacked the 1,924-page proposal as a monstrosity stuffed with 6,700 spending requests from members of Congress.
Rather than pass a budget for the fiscal year that runs through September, Congress is expected to fund the federal government for a few more months ---- minus the earmarks.
Reid's office issued a news release Friday blaming Republicans for killing the omnibus bill though many of them had "their hands in the cookie jar." In other words, earmarks of their own. The lost earmarks, Reid complained, would deprive Nevada's military, law enforcement, veterans and senior citizens of vital resources.
Republican Rep. Dean Heller was the only member of the Nevada delegation to spurn earmarks this year. He made no requests.
"Congress must get its fiscal house in order and rein in the reckless spending and massive debt. The defeat of this pork-laden spending bill is a clear victory for proponents of smaller government and a win for the American people," Heller said in a news release Friday.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who requested earmarks earlier in the year, now opposes the practice.
He was one of 39 senators to vote in favor of an immediate ban on earmarks that failed to pass the Senate on Nov. 30.
The spending bill included earmarks requested by 27 of those 39 senators, while 11 others had no requests in the hopper.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch had asked for some but after the vote sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee asking them to rescind his requests.
The spending bill that has now been spiked contained 171 earmarks worth $232 million that were requested by Reid, Ensign and Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus.
The largest was $23 million to design and construct a new field maintenance shop for the Army National Guard in Henderson. The four lawmakers had requested $25 million for the project, which would replace a small, deteriorating maintenance shop.
The earmarks also included:
■ For water: Reid and Ensign requested $19 million for the Army Corps of Engineers to improve water systems in rural Nevada.
■ For the jobless: There was more than $1 million earmarked for job assistance and training programs in Las Vegas, Reno and Elko.
■ For the sick: The earmarks included $1 million for the Whittemore-Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease in Sparks, $850,000 for the Nevada Cancer Institute in Las Vegas, and $500,000 for Las Vegas' Cure for the Kids Foundation.
■ For the elderly: They included $1 million for Las Vegas to construct low-income elderly housing; $200,000 to expand Pahrump's senior center; and $100,000 for the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas's Senior Lifeline program.
-- Peter Urban