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Democrats should roll the dice with Titus

The sudden departure of Robert Daskas from the 3rd Congressional District race this week has the potential to help Democrats pluck two defeats from the jaws of victory.

Daskas might not have been well-known among voters, but the prosecutor with deep ties to the district already had raised nearly $500,000 in his bid to unseat three-term Republican Jon Porter. Prior to Daskas’ decision to bow out due to family concerns, Democrats believed they had their best chance to take out Porter. Voter registration was falling their way, the Democratic caucuses had energized new voters and Porter was busy remaking himself as a centrist when he wasn’t busy playing in his band.

There was also hope this year that Democrats could pick up seats in the state Legislature — just one would give them the majority in the Senate and just one seat in the Assembly would make their majority in the lower house veto-proof.

Now, as the party scrambles to fill in the gap in the 3rd Congressional District, it may find itself with two holes.

The moment word of Daskas’ decision started to leak out Monday morning, officials with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other party elders began reaching out to state Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus. Titus, who was Nevada’s Democratic nominee for governor in 2006, had initially explored a run against Porter, but decided to commit to the legislative battle.

In her capacity as minority leader, Titus is responsible for recruiting candidates in key races and for raising money. Democrats believe they can pick up Senate District 5 in Henderson and District 6 in Summerlin. Both are Republican districts that have seen recent voter registration gains by Democrats. So far Titus has been able to recruit a challenger to Bob Beers in District 6, but she has yet to put forth a challenger to Joe Heck in District 5.

Now, as Titus decides what she’s going to do, there’s the potential that her own Senate seat could somehow get put into the up-for-grabs column, along with the campaign to retake the Senate.

On Tuesday, Titus sent an e-mail to supporters asking for their input as she tries to decide whether she will jump into the congressional race. She mentioned receiving calls from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley asking her to run.

“The Republican attack machine will stop at nothing to hang on to CD3,” Titus wrote in the e-mail. “We have seen how they turn accomplishments into negatives, distort voting records, and twist words. So we know it will take all of our best efforts to achieve victory in November.”

In one of the great empowering moves, Titus also asked her supporters — her supporters, mind you — how they feel about the race. The overwhelming response was Run, Dina, Run.

That’s the same response, by the way, you hear on the other side of the aisle. The Porter Protectors over at the National Republican Congressional Committee immediately sent out its screed against Titus, calling her a baggage-laden liberal. They didn’t even bring out the allegations of carpetbagging. Yet.

After all, Titus doesn’t live in the district. Yet.

On the other hand, Daskas, who was recruited by Reid and the DCCC, had no perceivable baggage. Sure, Porter could have played the experience card, but Daskas had no voting record, no campaign record, no controversial immigration statements and no accent.

In her 2006 statewide race, Titus beat Gov. Jim Gibbons in the 3rd District by 2 percentage points. Back then, Republicans had a slight voter registration advantage in the district. In 2006, Democrat Tessa Hafen ended up losing her race against Porter by fewer than 4,000 votes.

With Republican John McCain at the top of the ticket, the main message in Nevada is going to be taxes, whether the Democratic nominee for president is Barack Obama or not.

Just imagine the scenario for Democrats in Nevada if Titus is the nominee in CD3 and Hillary Clinton is at the top of the ticket. It’s not fair, and there may be some inherent sexism in the observation, but independent voters just don’t like either woman.

But Democrats really have no choice other than to roll the dice with Titus. It’s imperative for Reid that Porter is knocked out now, before he can run against Reid for the U.S. Senate in 2010. What better pit bull does the Democratic Party have than Titus?

Those critical of Titus’ past recruiting and fundraising efforts in the Senate and skeptical of this year’s batch may see the Daskas departure as a win-win. Titus could turn over the Senate work to someone such as National Committeeman Steven Horsford, who could then either get credit for success or have an easy excuse for failure. The same holds for Titus in CD3. If she wins, great. If not, Democrats could say they gave it their best shot despite the late start.

Many believe Porter held his seat two years ago because of his campaign ads against Hafen. And even before Titus makes it official today, you can bet someone is off crafting new ones, 30 seconds at a time.

Contact Erin Neff at eneff@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2906.

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