Published Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010 | 12:02 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010 | 12:39 a.m.
Freshman incumbent Dina Titus lost her first re-election bid Tuesday night to Republican challenger Joe Heck by a staggeringly tiny portion of the electorate.
Heck beat Titus by 1,922 votes, less than 1 percentage point. Their race was one of the most hotly contested in Congress.
The first Democrat to represent Nevada's 3rd Congressional District couldn't overcome the anti-incumbent sentiment that swept the nation this year and took a number of seats from Democratic House incumbents.
Titus tried to define herself as a lawmaker for the people. In campaign ads and speeches, she highlighted her work helping homeowners facing foreclosure and touted her opposition to Wall Street banks and insurance companies. She tried to define Heck as a special interest shill.
Heck fought back by blasting the accuracy of Titus' attacks, calling her entire campaign "a lie."
Heck made a brief speech shortly before 12:30 a.m., saying his victory showed that voters don’t want personal attacks in campaigns, “Voters just want to hear about the issues,” he said.
He said the new House will be more transparent, “will not spend more money than we take in,” and will work to build the economy.
“It’s time to work together,” he said. “It’s time to restore our state and our nation.”
A political moderate, Heck worked hard to toe the line in promoting conservative policies without tacking too far right. He kept his distance from U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle, who Democrats tried to cast as "extreme" and who Titus tried to link with her opponent.
In the end, Titus' efforts weren't enough. Voters chose the doctor over the political science professor.
"Heck is a credible candidate," said David Damore, a UNLV political scientist. "It's not like he's some tea party loony. And he's got a great pedigree between his military and medical experience."
"In general, we'd expect in midterm elections, especially with this economy, that the president's administration is going to lose."
Heck is a small business owner who practices medicine. He's also no newcomer to politics. Heck represented the state's 5th Senate District from 2004 to 2008.
He initially announced he would run for governor this year but dropped out of that race in 2009 and entered the less-crowded field for Congress instead.
Titus failed to get the lead she needed in early voting to take the election. Heck beat her by almost 400 votes in early voting and steadily extended his lead on Election Day as each precinct reported results.
Election Day turnout was low, which didn't help Titus, and many of the Democrats who did show up to the polls voted against her.
"I didn't hear good things about her," said Jenaya Butler, 33, who voted Tuesday at Gilbert Magnet School in North Las Vegas.
Butler, a Democrat, pulled the lever for both Reids but not for Titus. She chose Heck instead.
"She didn't seem right from what I saw on TV," Butler said.
Sun reporter Kyle Hansen contributed to this report.