Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011 | 8:33 p.m.
Dina Titus is preparing to announce her congressional bid for Nevada’s first district Thursday, and supporters of Ruben Kihuen are doing everything to try to change her mind.
Hispanic Democrats have been attempting to dissuade Titus from forcing a primary against Kihuen, the young state senator who stands to become Nevada’s first Latino representative, according to Democrats in and outside the state.
According to one Nevada Democratic insider, the list of influential Hispanics trying to talk Titus out of running in the 1st District reaches the national level and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — though their leaders were loath to admit Tuesday that there was any effort afoot to dissuade any Democrat from doing anything.
“The last thing the vice chair of the Democratic caucus wants to do is get involved in races in the primary,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra, a Democrat from California and senior member of the CHC, when asked if he’d been pressuring Titus.
“Have the maps been drawn?” said Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, who is in charge of recruitment for the CHC, and has been one of Kihuen’s biggest national boosters. Lujan did not deny he’d been in touch with Titus in recent days, but he dodged questions about the substance of those conversations.
“Dina’s a friend, Ruben’s a friend, [state Senate Majority Leader Steven] Horsford’s a friend, [Assembly] Speaker [John] Oceguera’s a friend,” Lujan said. “Look, I want to encourage Ruben to get in there and get after this…we’ll see what ultimately happens once ... people decide what districts they’re going to be running in. I think we have to have the best candidates we can in each of those districts to get them into the Congress.”
But Nevada Democrats have been staking claims to districts for a week now.
While proposed redistricting map must still survive a hearing before the Nevada Supreme Court before they can be declared final, it appears the drawing of district boundaries is nearing an end.
Kihuen announced his run in the 1st District – where the majority of the Hispanic community that’s expected to form the base of his support resides – within a day of District Judge James Russell approving the newly drawn state map of congressional and legislative districts.
Horsford volunteered for the newly fashioned 4th District. He’s the much-favored candidate in a match-up with state Sen. John Lee, who will primary against him there.
Though her campaign still refers to her as the “former Congresswoman for Nevada’s 3rd District,” Titus has said since she initially announced she’d run again that she has no intention of challenging Republican Rep. Joe Heck, who scraped past Titus by 1,748 votes to win the seat in 2010.
Oceguera is the only Democrat who has more or less volunteered to face Heck but party operatives say with the proper national political and financial backing, Titus has more of a fighting chance against her former rival.
But even with such pressure coming from influential national Democrats, she’s showing no signs of backing down prior to her announcement Thursday.
Though she is one of the more moderate Democrats of those in her party running for Congress, Titus has said she would prefer to represent a more Democratic district. The 1st District is also the safest for a Democratic incumbent: The party stronghold has sustained Rep. Shelley Berkley, now making a run for the U.S. Senate, for 13 years.
Kihuen’s supporters are still confident that they can best Titus in a primary match-up, even though she’s logged more years in the regional spotlight as a congresswoman and before that, the state Senate’s minority leader.
But Nevada’s closed party primary system could make that tricky. Kihuen draws strong bipartisan support from a populous Hispanic base, but Titus has a history of followers among registered Democrats — who are the only ones that can vote in a primary election.
Democratic operatives are concerned about what a Titus victory could mean for their base beyond this race.
In 2008 and 2010, Titus enjoyed more support among Hispanic voters than her Republican rivals — a key constituency whose turnout has been credited with helping Democrats win races around and the West.
But if a Kihuen loss puts out that constituency, they could stay at home just when candidates like Berkley and President Barack Obama desperately need their support statewide.
Berkley is currently polling neck-and-neck with incumbent Sen. Dean Heller, who has been in the Senate since May, when he was appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval to finish out the rest of John Ensign’s term.
Obama won Nevada by 12.5 points during the 2008 election, but is expected to have a harder slog — especially if Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee — in 2012.