POLITICAL EYE: Democrat checks House race support
August 29, 2011 - 12:59 am
State Sen. Ruben Kihuen was a man in motion last week. He traveled Tuesday to Reno to speak to the AFL-CIO convention. The next day the Democrat was back in east Las Vegas, attending a three-hour Spanish community town hall.
The back-to-back events allowed the Las Vegas senator to shore up support from two key groups: unions and the Hispanic community. They’re some of the backers he’ll need once he launches his expected campaign for Congress as soon as the first week of September.
Kihuen said he’s close to deciding whether to take the political plunge and he’ll make an announcement soon. Several insiders said he’s been reaching out to advisers and vendors who would be part of his campaign team and they expect him to jump into the race early next month.
"I still have not made my final decision, but it will be soon," Kihuen said. "Part of the reason I went up to speak to the AFL-CIO is to see what kind of support I could get from the unions. And they invited me to speak. I’m still talking to a lot of people. I’m still listening."
Kihuen has little to lose and everything to gain by running for one of three U.S. House districts in Southern Nevada. He’s in the middle of a four-year state Senate term, so he wouldn’t be out of a political job if he doesn’t win. And he could gain valuable experience running for higher office.
As a Hispanic with deep ties in the community, Kihuen would have an edge over non-Latino opponents in any district where Hispanics make up from one-third to one-half of the voters. A special court masters panel has been tasked with drawing the outlines of Nevada’s electoral districts because the Legislature failed to pass a plan that Gov. Brian Sandoval would sign. Both political parties sued as well, throwing redistricting into the courts to resolve.
No matter the outcome of the court case, at least one of the three U.S. House districts in Southern Nevada will be heavily Hispanic, likely overlapping with Kihuen’s state Senate district. Latinos make up 26 percent of Nevada’s total population and are centered mostly in Clark County.
Kihuen is a freshman senator who served two terms in the Assembly.
HORSFORD IN NO HURRY
State Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, also is making further preparations for a likely congressional bid. He’s been talking with members of his Democratic caucus to prepare them for a leadership transition, according to several lawmakers.
Horsford has been open about his ambition to represent Nevada in Washington, but he appears to be in no hurry to launch a campaign.
"I don’t feel there’s any big rush," Horsford said last week. "I’ve been very deliberative. I haven’t made my decision yet."
Over the summer, Horsford said he has focused on his wife and three children and on his job as head of the Culinary Training Academy.
"I’ve got my life back," Horsford said with a smile following a meeting last week of the Legislative Commission.
Some Democratic insiders speculated last week that Horsford might decide to stay in the state Senate and fight to retain control. Democrats hold the chamber by a slim 11-10 margin, and Republicans are confident they can gain the upper hand in the 2012 elections. Those Democrats said there are few signs Horsford has started to put together a serious campaign team or hire people he’ll need to help raise money, handle media and other tasks.
He also hasn’t made a point of meeting with Democratic leaders in Washington to discuss his potential campaign, which is something Kihuen did over the summer when lawmakers were in the nation’s capital for a series of meetings at the White House.
Kihuen met with leaders of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and sat down with U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who encouraged him to run.
But Horsford told at least one longtime Las Vegan as recently as last week that he does plan to run for Congress. And he can quickly put together a campaign team when he’s ready, enjoying strong support from the union and the Democratic Party machine in Nevada and Washington. Horsford is a national Democratic committeeman. And he’s close to President Barack Obama after helping the president win Nevada in 2008.
OTHER DEMOCRATS INTERESTED
If both Kihuen and Horsford announce House campaigns, that will mean five Democrats competing for three Southern Nevada seats. Former Rep. Dina Titus, state Sen. John Lee and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera already have launched campaigns.
So there could be at least two competitive Democratic primaries if all of the candidates jump in and stay in.
Kihuen and Horsford, the first African-American state Senate majority leader in Nevada, are expected to enjoy strong support from their minority bases in the population center of Las Vegas, where two of the House districts will be centered after court redistricting. Democrats who know both men said there’s a tacit understanding they would try to avoid facing off against one another in a primary.
Titus, who has a strong Democratic base as well, would be more likely to compete against Kihuen than to face Horsford, another party insider. Although Titus represented the 3rd Congressional District that she lost to Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., in 2010, she isn’t expected to attempt a rematch.
As for Oceguera and Lee, they are widely expected to face off in a Democratic primary to represent Heck’s district, since it’s likely to stretch beyond Clark County and into more conservative and rural neighboring counties.
Lee, a moderate, plans to travel to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 16 and 17 to meet with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee leaders and Reid, a fellow Mormon.
Oceguera also has been in contact with the committee , which has been on a recruiting drive in an effort to retake control of the GOP-led House in 2012.
Contact Laura Myers at lmyers @reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.Political Eye blog