GOP Focus on Reid Has Benefit for Freshman Titus

Top GOP Challenger Has Yet to Emerge

Posted May 18, 2009 at 6:25pm

Considering Rep. Dina Titus (D) won her suburban Las Vegas seat with less than 50 percent of the vote in 2008, one would think Nevada Republicans would be jumping at the chance to knock off the freshman Congresswoman in 2010.

Yet six months after she knocked off then-Rep. Jon Porter (R), Titus seems to be flying under the radar, and no GOP candidate has yet stepped forward to challenge her next cycle.

Perhaps that’s because state Republicans have bigger fish to fry.

The decennial battle over Congressional redistricting is looming, and after Democrats took control of the state Senate — and held the state Assembly — last cycle, the 2010 state legislative races and the gubernatorial contest have taken on added importance.

That and the fact that most of the Congressional talk has focused squarely on the GOP’s recruiting prospects in the race that features Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D).

“I think the focus really is on the governor’s race because that’s the one that will make a difference with a Democratically controlled legislature and with redistricting,— Titus said Monday. “So until [Republicans] get that settled and maybe find somebody to run against Harry, I think we’re third on the list.—

One Nevada GOP source agreed that the 3rd district race probably won’t take shape until after recruits are found for those statewide races because potential House candidates will be looking to see how much help they’ll get from the GOP names that will appear higher on the ballot in 2010.

A few Republicans being floated as possible challengers to Titus are businessman and 2008 Clark County Republican Party Chairman Brian Scroggins, State Assemblywoman Melissa Woodbury, Clark County School District President Terri Janison, former Nevada state Controller Steve Martin and James Dean Leavitt, a lawyer and regent for the Nevada System of Higher Education.

On Monday, Janison said she has no plans to challenge Titus, and Scroggins would only say a Congressional bid is something he’s considering but has no time frame for making a final decision.

Last year, Scroggins narrowly lost a bid for a seat on the Clark County Commission. He was running to replace Republican Bruce Woodbury, father of Melissa Woodbury, in a district that partially overlaps the 3rd district.

Scroggins attributes his defeat partly to the voter registration efforts of President Barack Obama and the state Democratic Party.

“Obama’s people came in. The Democrats came in. They did a great job of organizing. They got the people out,— he said. “The state Democratic Party spent a lot of time on voter registration numbers, and quite honestly, the Republicans didn’t do as good a job in my opinion as they could have.—

As of January, Democrats had around 40,000 more registered voters than Republicans in the 3rd district, but Scroggins is hopeful the state party and conservative interest groups like the Nevada-based Republican Renewal Project, which is being supported by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), can help shift the balance before 2010.

As they wait to see who will step forward to take on Titus, the National Republican Congressional Committee has tried to keep the pressure on the freshman Congresswoman. The committee has been working to paint Titus as a supporter of runaway Washington spending, criticizing her votes on the stimulus bill and the federal budget.

NRCC spokeswoman Joanna Burgos said Monday that Titus is “one of our top targets— in 2010.

“Especially at a time when foreclosures and the unemployment rate in Nevada are skyrocketing, voters will want to support a pro-growth, fiscally responsible candidate, and Dina Titus’ tax-and-spend record just doesn’t sit well with those voters,— she said.

But observers say Titus has been using her time well since November.

“Titus is behaving as if she expects a strong challenge,— said David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and pundit on Nevada politics. “She has done a nice job getting favorable local media coverage, has nice viability in the district, is in constant fundraising model, and has gained the good graces of a certain Senate Majority Leader.—

After being elected with 47 percent to Porter’s 42 percent in a district that Obama won with 55 percent, Titus said she has room to improve in 2010.

“Where we look to grow are the nonpartisans and the people who didn’t vote for Porter and didn’t vote for me, but went to third-party candidates or just skipped the race … because of all the negative campaigning that Porter did,— she said.

And Titus is fine with Republicans taking their time to find a candidate.

“Every day that they don’t have somebody just gives us another day to do something in the district or try to raise money,— she said.