Wrong Candidate in
The Nevada Senate?

April 14, 2015 — Retiring Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) already have endorsed former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to replace the outgoing Minority Leader, but have they chosen the right person? A new poll casts doubt.

The Nevada consulting group calling themselves “Silver Bullet” conducted a poll of between 500-600 Nevada Democrats (the exact number of people polled is not specified) on April 7 and found that Masto is not the top choice of Nevada Democratic primary voters, and by quite a margin. The only other survey question asked presidential preference, and the Silver Bullet conclusions appear consistent with other independent data giving their polling methodology some credibility. According to the result, Hillary Clinton would lead Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) among Nevada Democrats, 55-14 percent.

Instead of professing support for Masto in the Senate race, the respondents, on a 44-20 percent split, prefer Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV-1). For her part, Titus, a former gubernatorial nominee, is clearly sending signals that she would like to run. Saying publicly that she is seriously considering entering the Senate campaign, while her Washington fundraising staff members aggressively tell PAC directors that the congresswoman could well become a Senate candidate, suggests a Titus for Senate campaign is certainly within the realm of possibility.

Whether she actually defies Sen. Reid and the national party leadership may lead to a more passive conclusion, but this poll may well increase credibility and improve Rep. Titus’ prospects.

Despite the poll findings and where such a race might be today, the Democratic leaders are probably correctly targeting the right candidate in Masto. Previously, Rep. Titus proved herself as an inadequate statewide candidate, losing the governor’s race to former Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-NV-2) in a strong Democratic year (2006). Not only was Gibbons running against a partisan wave, but a sex-tainted scandal involving a Las Vegas cocktail waitress broke directly before the election, yet Titus was unable to produce a victory.

Two years after her statewide defeat, she ran for the politically marginal 3rd District and defeated three-term Rep. Jon Porter (R-NV-3). But, in the next election, Titus was unable to hold the seat falling to current Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV-3).

In the 2012 reapportionment, Nevada was awarded a fourth congressional seat. This led to a small, heavily Democratic downtown Las Vegas 1st District seat being created for incumbent Rep. Shelley Berkley (D), but she instead decided to run for the Senate. Thus, the opening provided Titus a perfect opportunity for a return to Congress. She had virtually no Democratic opposition and breezed to a 64 percent victory on President Obama’s coattails against a Republican who spent less than $100,000. She was re-elected in 2014 with a rather unimpressive 57 percent against an unknown Republican who expended $167,000-plus in campaign dollars.

The open Nevada Senate race will become one of the most exciting contests in the country. And, if Masto does lock down the Democratic nomination and former Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki becomes the Republican candidate, the race will take on personal overtones as well as ideological ones.

In her position as AG, Masto pushed for, and received, an indictment against Lt. Gov. Krolicki for misappropriation of state funds while executing his official duties. The indictment was tossed as soon as it reached a judge, under the reasoning that the charge did not state a crime.

Accusations then flew that Masto pursued the action against Krolicki for political reasons. At the time, the lieutenant governor was looking to challenge Sen. Reid in the 2010 contest. The indictment, even though frivolous, was enough to dissuade him from running. Reid went onto draw former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle as his Republican opponent, allowing him to win in a Republican landslide year when most other Democrats lost.

The incident left open wounds between Krolicki and Masto. Therefore, the 2016 Senate campaign, should both win their respective party nominations, will not only determine who succeeds Harry Reid but could settle an old score, as well.

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