By Jim Ellis
Aug. 14, 2017 — It’s interesting how individual political moves can often yield opportunities or create obstacles for others in a semi-related fashion. Such is the case for Las Vegas US Rep. Dina Titus (D), as she is all of a sudden looking at a much different Nevada political landscape since Republican Danny Tarkanian announced his primary challenge to incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (R) earlier in the week.
Within the past two weeks, Titus made a public statement reminding national and local political observers that she is still considering entering the 2018 Senate race even though fellow Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) has become a statewide candidate.
To review, largely at the behest of former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Rosen decided to run statewide even though she was just elected to the House in November, ironically defeating Tarkanian by one percentage point with both candidates garnering less than majority political support. Just after Rosen made her announcement, Rep. Titus commented about her own Senate prospects and reminded people that she has twice beaten the “Reid Machine,” a claim few Nevada politicians can make.
Dina Titus won the 2006 gubernatorial nomination despite Reid supporting an opponent. In 2012, the Senate Leader tried to recruit now-4th District Congressman Ruben Kihuen (D-Las Vegas), then a state senator, to challenge Titus for the open 1st District party nomination, but his attempt failed. She proceeded to win the nomination, the associated 2012 general election, and remains in the House.
With Tarkanian now attacking Sen. Heller from the right in the Republican primary, it is reasonable to assume that the incumbent will be in a weakened position heading into the 2018 general election. When Tarkanian made his decision to run for Senate, Heller was running at parity with both Reps. Titus and Rosen in early ballot test polls.
Since a Strategic National survey (Aug. 1-2; 500 likely Nevada Republican primary voters) showed Tarkanian trailing the senator by only four percentage points, 34-38 percent, it is reasonable to believe that the challenger has enough of a conservative base within the GOP primary voting base to attract a significant vote. This will force Sen. Heller to run a serious re-nomination campaign and spend valuable resources in order to secure the party ballot line.
Therefore, with superior name identification, experience in running a statewide campaign, and a network that touches Nevada’s four corners, it would be a reasonable move for Rep. Titus to enter the Senate race, irrespective of Sen. Reid’s political apparatus and potentially the Nevada Democratic Party establishment lining up behind Rep. Rosen. It is important to note, however, that while Rosen slipped past Tarkanian to win the 3rd District, she was generally regarded as a relatively weak candidate. Thus, she could be in a highly vulnerable position should Rep. Titus enter the Senate campaign.
Considering the current polling and Nevada’s voting history, the general election looks to be in toss-up mode throughout the entire campaign, thus making Sen. Heller the Democrats’ top national conversion target.
Rep. Titus was a 20-year veteran of the Nevada state Senate when she became the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, but fell to then-Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Reno) in the general election. She rebounded in 2008 with a 3rd District congressional victory over Republican incumbent Jon Porter (R-Henderson), but would fail in her own re-election attempt two years later opposite Dr. Joe Heck (R). In 2012, when Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Las Vegas) challenged then-appointed Sen. Heller, Titus captured the safely Democratic open 1st District and successfully returned to the House.
As a prelude to a very tough general election fight, Nevada may well feature two highly competitive Senate nomination primaries. The Nevada partisan primaries are scheduled for mid-June, with candidate filing at a yet-to-be-determined day in March, so it could be several weeks before the final Democratic and Republican candidate fields fully form.