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Porter now against Bush as much as he is for him

It was a constant refrain in the 2006 campaign against Rep. Jon Porter: He voted with President Bush more than 90 percent of the time.

Democrats hammered on his habit of siding with an unpopular president, seeking to paint him as a partisan hack.

That will be a little bit harder now that Porter has started voting against President Bush about as much as he votes with him.

In Congressional Quarterly’s analysis of partisan fidelity, Porter has dropped from voting with Bush 93 percent of the time in 2006 to 51 percent of the time in 2007.

Congressional Quarterly bases its analysis on all recorded votes in the House on which Bush has taken a public position. There were 117 such votes last year.

Porter, in Congress since 2003, voted with Bush 80 percent of the time in 2005, 82 percent in 2004 and 98 percent in 2003.

The shift last year would seem to confirm the widespread impression that Porter, facing another tough re-election fight in Nevada’s 3rd District, has been moderating his stances on issues to appeal to independents and Democrats.

The fast-growing 3rd District is split almost evenly between registered Democrats and Republicans, although Democrats have recently gained an edge of 2 percentage points. But a potentially decisive 15 percent of the district’s active voters were not registered with a political party as of early this month.

A spokesman for Porter said politics wasn’t a factor.

“There has been no conscious ideological shift away from the president or his party,” Matt Leffingwell said. “The congressman votes according to what’s best for his district and best for the nation.”

Leffingwell chalked the discrepancy up to the Democrats taking control of Congress last year, saying they set a different agenda than the Republicans who had previously controlled the House.

He noted there were several votes on the Democrats’ proposed expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Porter first opposed it, then came to support it after his concerns with the original bill were addressed, despite opposition from Bush.

Porter just last week broke from the president again, voting with Democrats to override a Bush veto of the bill. The veto was sustained.

A deeper analysis prepared by Congressional Quarterly shows Porter broke with Bush on a multitude of issues the 55 times he didn’t vote Bush’s way, including stem-cell research, college loans, presidential records, affordable housing, Hawaiian sovereignty and protection from lung illnesses for popcorn workers. Porter voted for all of the above; Bush opposed them.

Out of 202 Republicans in the House, just 21 voted with Bush less frequently than Porter. In another shocking coincidence, 15 of the 21 were from states that went for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted with the president 75 percent of the time, while Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., supported Bush in 12 percent of her votes.

Leffingwell said Porter works hard to remain true to a fast-growing, “dynamic” district, going home to Henderson every weekend to keep his finger on the pulse of his constituency.

SIGHT UNSEEN

The nearly 118,000 voters who participated in the Jan. 19 Democratic caucuses awarded the most precinct delegates to the major candidate who spent the least time in the state.

Hillary Clinton, who won 51 percent of the delegate count to Barack Obama’s 45 percent, spent part or all of 17 days in Nevada from the launch of her campaign through caucus day.

Obama spent 20 days campaigning in the state. John Edwards, who bombed in the caucus, winning less than 4 percent of the delegates, spent 23 days, including a Nevada stop on his campaign announcement tour in December 2006.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had high hopes for Nevada but never made it to the caucuses, dropping out after the Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary. Before that, he had spent 20 days in the state.

The candidates were scarce between mid-November, a few days after the first Las Vegas Democratic debate, and Jan. 10, when New Hampshire was over. All were hunkered down in Iowa for almost all of that time in anticipation of the Jan. 3 caucuses.

Iowa eliminated Sens. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, whose cash-poor campaigns prevented them from crisscrossing the nation in private jets. Biden spent six days in Nevada, Dodd eight.

Clinton had some high-profile help though. Her slightly famous husband visited Reno and Las Vegas in late 2007, then spent most of the pre-caucus week in the state, campaigning at a breakneck pace with multiple events every day.

CODE RED

A newly formed conservative activist group is not going to cede Las Vegas to the vast left-wing conspiracy.

The Las Vegas area is one of nine media markets the Coalition for a Conservative Majority plans to target, “all areas where liberals and their allies are expected to focus their misinformation crusade in the upcoming year,” according to a news release.

The group, founded by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, hopes to create a grass-roots conservative army to answer the many national liberal activist groups.

Since leaving Congress in 2006, DeLay, who remains under federal indictment in Texas, has operated a political strategy firm.

DeLay and the coalition’s chairman, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, are scheduled to visit Henderson on Tuesday to recruit members. The 7 p.m. dinner meeting at the Henderson Convention Center is open to members of the public interested in joining, but not the media.

The group hopes to create a network on the right similar to MoveOn.org on the left, but more focused on “boots on the ground” than Internet activism, according to its executive director, Chris Perkins.

Perkins said the group isn’t going for huge numbers. The aim is to recruit an initial membership of as few as 25 committed activists, rather than hundreds who would be members in name only. The activists will be trained in effective grass-roots techniques, ready to unleash their forces in phone, e-mail and letter-writing campaigns, protests, rallies, and other actions.

The group also hopes to bridge divides between social, fiscal and security conservatives, serving as a common forum for more specialized organizations, such as single-issue advocacy groups and think tanks.

A pamphlet from the group states, “Conservatives are divided today as never before, at the very moment the Left has matched and surpassed our traditional advantages in organization and action. As the conservative revolutions of 1980 and 1994 fade into distant memories, Bill and Hillary Clinton are preparing their triumphant return to the White House.”

Other locales targeted by the coalition are Houston; Scranton and Pittsburgh, Pa.; West Palm Beach, Fla.; Denver and Colorado Springs, Colo.; Columbus, Ohio, and Phoenix.

Perkins said Las Vegas and Phoenix were “very high-growth areas where a lot of people are moving in. The new people on the conservative end are looking for ways to get involved in conservative activism; we’re going to offer them a way to do that.”

Local Democrats agreed with the group’s premise of superior lefty organization.

“It is not surprising that Republicans are running to make up ground in Nevada,” said Kirsten Searer, deputy executive director of the Nevada Democratic Party. “Democrats here are more energized and organized than ever.”

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball @reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2919.

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