Sunday, July 24, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Nevada’s congressional hopefuls may not know which ring they’re aiming for yet, but that hasn’t stopped them from tossing their hats in the general direction of Southern Nevada.
Precious time is passing as the courts — taking over after the Legislature failed — finish redrawing congressional boundaries. About 15 months remain until Election Day 2012, and the primary is less than a year away; in short, time to get cracking.
“We advise potential candidates to act now,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel said. “It’s not just Nevada: Throughout the country, where you have late redistricting, candidates should take care of what’s in their control now and not worry about what’s out of their control later.”
That’s the rationale behind the announcements of former Rep. Dina Titus and Nevada Assembly Speaker John Oceguera last week that they would run for Congress.
“I just assumed the Legislature would take care of business (on redistricting) and we’d know by June,” said Titus, who announced her run Tuesday. “Then they were saying the end of the summer. Now it’s anybody’s guess ... so there’s no point in waiting anymore.”
“We have no real idea where those districts are going to be drawn,” said Oceguera, who announced his candidacy Monday.
The lines are going to bind congressional candidates in both parties. But Republicans have a better sense of the turf: Rep. Joe Heck, who beat Titus in a close race last November, represents the 3rd Congressional District and intends to stay there, even if his home is drawn out of the district.
The waiting also hasn’t stopped the candidates from raising money.
Heck pulled in more than $311,000 in the second quarter of 2011 and has more than $414,000 in the bank. That’s more than the 2nd District special election candidates, and Heck doesn’t have a declared opponent yet.
No law says members of the House of Representatives have to live in the district they represent; the only requirement is that they live in the state. Titus, for instance, lived just outside the 3rd District for the two years she represented it in Congress.
“Issues in Washington affect people whether they live in Henderson or Summerlin,” said Titus, who represented parts of the 1st and 3rd Congressional Districts during her tenure in the state Senate. “I’m no stranger to anybody in Southern Nevada.”
While squabbles between Democrats and Republicans kept the Legislature from completing the task, likely scenarios have emerged. The 3rd and/or 4th Districts will likely be swing districts, more or less evenly divided between the parties, while Democrats are expected to maintain their advantage in the 1st District — the Las Vegas-based district Rep. Shelley Berkley is vacating after more than a decade to run for the Senate.
In the 3rd District, Heck’s incumbency presents a challenge to Democrats.
Oceguera, on the other hand, said he’s “not going to shy away from taking on an incumbent.”
But both hope they won’t have to take on other Democrats to reach the general election. By coming off the block early, Titus and Oceguera may have staked a claim, but without a district to pin it to, it may not ward off other Democrats — especially when there’s another Southern Nevada district that could use a candidate.
The DCCC has talked to about a half dozen potential candidates — Oceguera, Titus, Steven Horsford, the state Senate majority leader, and Ruben Kihuen, a state senator with a high profile in the Hispanic community.
It’s about as varied a slate as you can get. But if they want to avoid primaries, Democrats are going to have to sell each other on whose strengths will play best in each district. National Democrats, Israel said, plan to keep their noses out of the process.
In the meantime, Titus and Oceguera said they plan to pummel Republicans with similar messages.
“You have to go out and talk about who you are, what you represent, and convince people that you’re a viable candidate,” Oceguera said. “In general, I think it’ll work itself out.”