And then there were … five?
State Sen. Ruben Kihuen announced Thursday he’ll seek a seat in Congress, an announcement that sets up a disturbing prospect for at least one fellow Democrat: Since there are only three seats available, and four announced candidates, somebody will either have to run in a primary or drop out.
But none of those currently running — former Rep. Dina Titus, Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, state Sen. John Lee or Kihuen — even knows where the district lines will be drawn. A Carson City judge will hold a hearing later this month on some legal issues before a select panel of experts goes to work making the maps.
But that’s not stopping the campaigning or fundraising.
This week, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat, dropped by to endorse Titus. That early backing gives Titus an establishment boost wherever she’ll end up running. And since Hoyer is not nearly so controversial as his boss, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Titus may even be able to use him in fliers and TV ads. That will come in very handy if she finds herself in a primary against a fellow Democrat.
Kihuen says he’ll end up running in whatever district takes in his home base, largely Hispanic East Las Vegas. He’s represented the area in the Assembly and the state Senate, and he notes that both Republican and Democratic proposed redistricting maps — which either failed to pass the Legislature or to survive Gov. Brian Sandoval’s veto during the 2011 legislative session — kept the area together. That’s a good sign the final map will, too, and such a district will give him a boost.
Kihuen said he didn’t want to wait for final lines to be drawn. Since he knew he was going to make a bid for Congress anyway, he went live on Facebook and Twitter now.
“It was the right time,” he said. “I was already convinced it was the right thing to do.”
The wild card is state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, who steadfastly declined on Thursday to say when (or even whether) he’ll make a decision to run for Congress himself.
“I am carefully considering what it takes to put together a winning team in the event the will of the people and my family is to serve them in Congress,” Horsford said. Instead, he said, he was focusing on his decade-long job as president of the Culinary Training Academy of Las Vegas, where 2,000 workers annually learn the ropes of hotel jobs. The center is especially busy now with the re-opening of the Plaza hotel-casino and taking over the kitchen at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, he said.
While Horsford is mum about when he’ll make a call on Congress, he did on Wednesday appoint fellow state Sen. Mo Denis to head the Majority 2012 Initiative. That job involves recruiting candidates for open Senate seats, raising money and devising strategy to allow Democrats to keep their razor-thin majority in the state’s upper house. Tellingly, it’s the job Horsford had before he became majority leader, and it’s a clear sign Horsford has his sights set elsewhere.
While four of his fellow Democrats decided the need to raise money and stake a claim to the race outweighed the practical consideration of not having a district to run in just yet, Horsford repeatedly insisted he wasn’t concerned. “The only thing I’m worried about is putting people back to work,” he said.
Still, it’s simple math: Three districts, as many as five candidates. That means two disappointed Democrats still standing when the congressional music stops.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@ reviewjournal.com.