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January 25, 2015

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Dina Titus swept away by Tea Party wave

She struggled to overcome link to White House agenda


Sam Morris

Joe Heck supporters, from left, Andy Migliorini, Marianne Wojciechowicz and Pete Farrell cheer as election results come in Tuesday.

Congressman-elect Joe Heck

Congressman-elect Joe Heck, Seg. 2

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  • Congressman-elect Joe Heck, Seg. 2
  • Congressman-elect Joe Heck, Seg. 3
  • Congressman-elect Joe Heck, Seg. 4
  • Congressman-elect Joe Heck, Seg. 1

At the Polls: Voter Choices

The Sun exit polled voters at three polling stations throughout the valley to find out who voters were choosing for the hotly contested Senate race between Harry Reid and Sharron Angle, the Governor race between Rory Reid and Brian Sandoval, the 3rd District Congressional race between Dina Titus and Joe Heck and the 1st District Congressional race between Shelley Berkley and Kenneth Wegner.

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Joe Heck

Joe Heck

Dina Titus

Dina Titus

Rep. Dina Titus, who two years ago was swept into Congress by a wave of Democratic enthusiasm, lost her seat Tuesday to Republican challenger Joe Heck, another victim of the Republican backlash that has redefined the House of Representatives.

A freshman incumbent, Titus had struggled — like many House incumbents in her party — to distance herself from the Obama administration and Democrats in control of Congress. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. Titus split from Democratic leaders several times during her two-year tenure, likely in anticipation of a difficult midterm re-election. She broke from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to advocate for tax breaks for the wealthy. She expressed concerns about health care reform when it was being considered and remained silent on the bill for weeks (although she eventually voted for it). She signed a letter opposing a tax on insurers that provide higher-end policies to employees, one of the provisions of the health care bill leaders were pushing for.

Still, many voters lumped Titus in with Democrats who they see as having failed to significantly improve the economy or create jobs. Titus struggled against the strong anti-incumbent feeling that swept the nation this year, surpassing that seen during the past three midterm elections. She ended up losing by less than 1 percent of the vote.

“It’s easy when you’re the challenger because you don’t have to present what you would do,” said David Damore, a political scientist at UNLV. “You just have to raise enough doubts about the other side, and in this environment, that’s not hard to do.”

Titus won a narrow victory in the 3rd Congressional District seat in 2008, making her an easy target this year. She beat Republican Jon Porter by just 5 percentage points, while Obama won the district by 13 points. That was the first sign Titus might not have an easy road to a second term. She’s also the first Democrat to represent the swing district, which was formed after the 2000 Census.

Titus made a name for herself in Congress fighting for Nevadans losing their homes — 13 of the 20 ZIP codes with the most foreclosures in the country are in her district — but her name also hurt her. Titus was never able to shake the “Dina Taxes” moniker Republicans stuck her with during her unsuccessful 2006 bid for governor. Confident in the winning tactic, the GOP drummed up the nickname again this year, splashing it across campaign ads and mailers.

Heck, a former state senator who started out this election cycle running for governor, also has a political history. To get on the governor’s ballot, he would have had to beat out a crowded field of Republican contenders — an unlikely proposition — so he dropped out of that race in late 2009 and announced his intention to run for Congress instead, a race without serious Republican opposition. Titus rarely mentioned the strategy.

“If I were Dina, I would have played up Joe Heck as the opportunist,” Damore said. “Voters don’t like that.”

Instead, Titus and third-party groups campaigning on her behalf rehashed inaccurate claims about Heck opposing cancer vaccines for women.

The outside groups that helped push campaign lines for both candidates played a key role in the election, but especially for Heck. Titus outraised Heck in campaign contributions by $1 million. But the Republican gained significant ground with outside expenditures. Nearly two dozen third-party groups spent more than $2.2 million stumping for Heck, enabling him to match Titus dollar-for-dollar. Outside groups spent only $1.8 million on Titus’ behalf. The race for the 3rd Congressional District attracted the most outside money of any House race in the nation, except for a battle in Michigan.

“No one commercial matters but the sum total of them does resonate,” Damore said. “That’s why it’s so important to be balanced, so the narrative doesn’t tilt. Dina went up real early, and I don’t think she had much left in the tank.”

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  1. <i>inaccurate claims about Heck opposing cancer vaccines for women.</i>

    This is simply not true. What she said about Heck is true. He did vote against the vaccine that prevents HPV, which causes cervical cancer. I know that Jon Ralston wrote a column saying it was untrue but he was wrong. Throughout the campaign, this reporter has continued to assert that Titus was wrong. That became a major theme in Heck's campaign. But its untrue.

    Your own editorial page editor published my letter explaining this issue in this very newspaper back in August.

    I'm just curious, what is the evidence for claiming, without needing to substantiate the point, that Titus was "inaccurate"? Please feel free to respond right here in the comments and explain what was "inaccurate".

  2. Her commercial about Dr. Heck lying to a "room full of cops" was just too over the top. Congratulations Dr. Heck. I'm proud to have worked on your campaign.

  3. Mr. Fink, Dina Titus has lived here since 1977, and spent that time trying to make this a better community. I feel terrible that she lost and, yes, an opportunist who obeys not the Hippocratic Oath but the Hypocritical Oath defeated her. By the way, that "cracker" has a Ph.D. in political science and, obviously, knows a lot more about humanity and government than you or many of the others unthinkingly criticizing her and, in the process, revealing a lot about yourselves.

  4. Mr. Green, while Titus has been here for several years she has never been a Nevadan and has never worked for Nevadans.

  5. She is a tax-and-spend liberal and she proved it by voting for ALL of the Obama agenda. Good riddance. Hopefully Heck will cut spending and stop all this nonsense in DC.

  6. Dear Congressman-elect Heck,

    Please help the people who cannot find jobs in NV. There are thousands who are going to have no way of putting food on the table or a roof over their heads at the end of the month. Tens of housands, sir.

    We cannot expect you to deliver on your promise of jobs for all of us by Dec 1, but extending the helping hand until you can deliver would save a lot of lives.

    Will you man up?

  7. I think Dina did a fabulous job for womens healthcare in the services, for veterans, and for homeowners in her district. I am very sad she lost this race.

    I hope Joe Heck will help our economy - I sincerely wish him well.

  8. JBLV: Below is a link to a story I wrote about inaccuracies in a pro-Titus ad regarding the HPV vaccine.

    Titus later refined the argument in commercials released by her campaign. Those were far more accurate than the initial claims that surfaced on her behalf, but those initial claims were most certainly inaccurate.

  9. Again, I beg to differ with you Delen. Joe Heck did vote against a "cervical cancer vaccine." The CDC notes that 99.8 of all cervical cancers are accompanied by HPV, and the vaccine Joe Heck voted against protects against HPV. Because 80% of American women will be exposed to some form of HPV in our lifetimes, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend widespread vaccination. There was nothing factually incorrect about Dina's ad. You need only to go back and look at the coverage your own paper had to look at the egregious statements Heck made about cervical cancer and women's health:

    To explain his vote, Heck compared the vast majority of women American women who will contract genital HPV to a smoker who contracts lung cancer. It is important to note here that conservative studies estimate one in five women nationally will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and that Nevada women are statistically more likely to be subject to coerced sex than the national average. We also understand from common sense that a woman cannot control the past or even the present partners of her husband, boyfriend or lover, so that a woman need not engage in "risky" behavior to be at risk for contracting HPV or cervical cancer. For these reasons, most in the Religious Right, including most conservative organizations in Nevada, have dropped their previously stalwart opposition to the vaccine. Senator Heck stands to the right of almost everyone in his opposition to making the vaccine more widely available. And this is for the benefit only of Insurance companies.

  10. This is a loss for women.

  11. gingerlee: is that all we should be looking out for - women? Her agenda was harmful to every one of us and to those not yet born. Bailouts, takeovers, deficts that stretch to infinity, policies that exacerbated the recession and caused greater unemployment. She never saw a government program she didn't like. 2 years from now, if we don't like what Joe Heck has done, we can just as easily fire him.

  12. Do you think the people are trying to tell Obama to get ready for 2012?

  13. Jerry, I will do my best to fire him in 2 years, because Joe Heck does not have my best interest at heart.

  14. Jessica said: "It is important to note here that conservative studies estimate one in five women nationally will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and that Nevada women are statistically more likely to be subject to coerced sex than the national average."

    Ms. Brown if these figures are accurate then you're telling me that 20%, ONE IN FIVE, women will be sexually assaulted? AND THAT'S A CONSERVATIVE ESTIMATE!! You didn't say by whom. Does that assume it will be a man or are you discriminating against gays, lesbians and transgenders who like to sexually assault women? And if a man does assault her, does that mean sufficient relations will occur to transmit a disease? You've omitted some glaring efficacious facts and conclusions from your analysis.

    I think with those statistics if you want to do some good you might want to start a self-defense class for women instead of crying the howls of indignation about a vaccine. Seems like if the girl could kick some booty she wouldn't have to rely on the government or insurance to pay her way.

  15. 20% of the total female population in America is about 30,000,000 women who will be sexually assualted versus approximately 14,000 annual cases of cervical cancer. I'd say Ms. Brown is working the wrong cause.