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March 5, 2015

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Dina Titus dares to cross Harry Reid, maneuvers for Democratic safe seat

Reid’s ideal candidate for Congressional District 1 bows out of race, leaving Titus poised to claim the seat


Steve Marcus

Dina Titus, Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress, prepares to speak during the opening of her campaign headquarters at 3790 Paradise Road on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. Her husband Tom Wright is behind her at left. Titus is running for Nevada’s 1st Congressional District seat.

Titus Opens Campaign Headquarters

Dina Titus, Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress, speaks during the opening of her campaign headquarters at 3790 Paradise Road Thursday, February 9, 2012. Titus is running for Nevada's 1st Congressional District seat. Launch slideshow »

Maybe Sen. Harry Reid is mortal after all.

The almost universally acknowledged master of Nevada politics, Reid and his lieutenants anoint candidates, eliminate contested primaries and, ultimately, win elections.

Few dare cross him.

So when Dina Titus, a former state senator and one-term congresswoman, decided, against Reid’s wishes, to run for the safest Democratic Congressional seat in Nevada, some observers were waiting for Titus to be pushed out. Instead, it was Reid’s favored candidate, state Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, who last week dropped his bid for the 1st District seat, where Democrats have a steep voter registration advantage.

Titus not only stood up to the Senate majority leader and lived to tell about it, but she also appears to have claim to a Congressional seat for as long as she wants it.

Here’s how she won.


Reid is sometimes compared to a chess master — competing against checkers players.

Click to enlarge photo

Sen. Harry Reid encourages support for President Obama while speaking at the 2012 Democratic Caucus Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012, at Cheyenne High School.

In this situation, Titus was well-positioned to resist Reid’s control of the political chessboard.

Last year, when Democrats began assembling their pieces to run for Congress, Reid’s perfect setup looked something like this:

• State Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, a popular black politician would run in the new 4th Congressional District.

• In the 1st Congressional District, it would be Kihuen, a young, popular Latino who could help boost Hispanic turnout — key to Reid’s 2010 reelection — for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Members of Reid’s 2010 campaign team left to join the up and comer.

• Titus, the seasoned campaigner with an established constituency, would run against Republican Rep. Joe Heck in the 3rd Congressional District — the seat Titus held for one term, until Heck defeated her in 2010.

But after decades in politics, including an unsuccessful run for governor, Titus had long ago graduated from Democratic Party pawn.

Not only was she willing to defy her party’s most powerful player and say, “Not this time,” but she had a devoted constituency and donor base that would allow her to make such a stand.

The month before Kihuen announced his exit from the race, the path forward for him was growing increasingly grim.

Titus’ polling, which her campaign trumpeted to the media, showed her leading Kihuen by 66 points.

Then came fundraising totals: Kihuen had raised $179,000 in the same time it took Titus to raise $422,000. Kihuen’s tally included contributions from business leaders in mining, gaming and NV Energy — three of the biggest contributors in Nevada politics, each with strong ties to Reid.

Shortly after Kihuen’s disappointing fundraising numbers were finalized, his campaign team met to assess his progress. The team came equipped with Kihuen’s latest polling numbers, which were similar to Titus’ numbers. Kihuen was struggling to gain name recognition relative to Titus, who is well-known and well-liked in the district.

Kihuen could continue, he was told, but it would cost millions of dollars and require an intensely negative advertising barrage. Plus, Titus was already out-fundraising him 2-to-1.

Even pursuing that approach, victory would be difficult. Titus, 61, is already established in the district, and voters would be less receptive to the negative ads Kihuen might use against her, the poll numbers showed.

It appeared so difficult that all it took was a gentle nudge from Reid to withdraw, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Click to enlarge photo

State Sen. Ruben Kihuen speaks at a meeting Jan. 20 in which state legislators met with domestic abuse victims and advocates to discuss tougher laws.

“It became very clear the pathway to victory was narrow and would have required a very bloody process,” said one Democratic strategist. “It would’ve been very divisive for the party at a time we need to pull together.

“I think he just looked at the situation and he was very realistic about it.”

Kihuen, 31, was cognizant of his political future. He wasn’t willing to burn bridges with a negative campaign against Titus. Nor was he willing to risk a loss that could have hurt his prospects for the future.

“He is someone who everyone recognizes has a serious future in the party,” the strategist said.


So why couldn’t Reid pull it off for Kihuen?

First, Reid never made the decision to go all-in for Kihuen. He gave his blessing to Kihuen’s candidacy and made it known in political circles that he favored Kihuen over Titus.

But he wasn’t going to put his full muscle behind an unproven candidate.

“It just wasn’t his hill to die for,” said one candidate.

Reid never focused his full organization on pushing Titus out of the race, as he did to Byron Georgiou, a challenger of Rep. Shelley Berkley. In that case, labor allies attacked businesses Georgiou was associated with and Reid publicly questioned his ethics and role on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

Titus told people she never received a call from Reid asking her to exit the race.

Reid also never strong-armed other groups, like the Culinary Union, to get on board with Kihuen. The union, which represents Strip hotel workers and is a key Reid ally, has had an ongoing feud with Kihuen since the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign, when Kihuen endorsed Hillary Clinton and the Culinary endorsed Barack Obama.

Kihuen never met the benchmarks — perhaps most importantly in fundraising — that Reid’s people informally set for him.

Neither Titus nor Kihuen returned calls for comment.

Kihuen will return to the state Senate, where he can plan his next move. Titus, meanwhile, is likely to return to Congress.

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  1. The Dems need to find a candidate to unseat Joe Heck in District 3. Who and where is the candidate? Or are we who live in District 3 stuck with Mr. Heck. This is a vulnerable seat in Congress that could easily get back in the Democrat column. Why no interest?

  2. Way to go DINA ! Harry, baucus lincoln obama and the rest of the corporate democrats left the house democrats twisting in the Wind in 2010 ! The 3rd district will be in control of the rich physicians for years because the wage slaves have left the state for jobs. Reid thanks for that watered down health care bill that took two years to produce, Dodd Frank is a waste too !

  3. ressince73, John Oceguera is running against Heck. I suspect there isn't much interest in part because there's no primary, but the DCCC has made this one of its prime races.

  4. LBJ said don't let a dead cat sit on the porch too long Reid and Obama are pikers compared to him , or perhaps they'er really conservatives.

  5. Anjeanette and David hit the nail on the head in their summary of why Harry Reid's support for Ruben Kihuen evaporated.

    There are very few Democrats in Nevada (other than party stooges and hangers-on) who have true warm feelings for Harry Reid. He's admired as a wise general, but there's little affection towards him as a person or as a candidate. He constantly sells-out progressive political principles in "leading" the Senate, even when the Democrats had a super-majority in the Senate.

    On the other hand, Dina Titus has a large group of ardent supporters because she's kind, approachable, intelligent and ran a good "constituent services" operation when she was in Congress. Titus engenders the same loyalty and affection which Shelley Berkeley does within the conservative Democrat 1st District.

    Titus and Berkeley are viewed in the same light as a beloved grandmother, wisely and assertively protecting her "family", while Reid is viewed as a cold, calculating, manipulative grandfather for whom few voters or family members have affection. In his last election, if the Republicans had run a respectable candidate, Harry Reid probably would no longer be Majority Leader and instead be sitting at his desk at home in Searchlight (or at some corporate lobbying firm on K Street.)

    The bottom line is that Harry Reid knows the limits of his power over intelligent Democrat voters in Nevada, and those powers certainly do not include the power to step on beloved women candidates to "give a congressional seat" to an inexperienced, ineffectual, self-impressed pipsqueak simply as a means to "help" Barack Obama be re-elected.

    That fact is especially true in the 1st District, because independents who voted for Berkeley and Titus would be more likely to vote for a Republican Congressional candidate than for an under-qualified "Reid puppet" foisted on them.

    The reality is that Harry Reid knows that many independents and progressive Democrats are furious with Barack Obama concerning a large number of issues. The currently-breaking news story that the Obama Administration is "cooking the books" on unemployment statistics nationally, in an effort to gain re-election, is certainly not going to help the Obama re-election campaign in this state with its real-world massive under-reported unemployment/ underemployment. Nevada independent, progressive and Democrat voters have had enough time to see President Obama for what he really is...nothing but a charlatan.

    When election day rolls around, many independent and progressive Democrat voters in Nevada are NOT going to vote for Barack Obama, or perhaps not vote at all. Barack Obama is going to lose Nevada's electoral votes. Cold, calculating Reid can read the handwriting on the wall. There would be no point in embarrassing himself for a losing cause and in the process alienating the not-party-manipulated Democratic and independent voter base in the 1st District.

  6. Sgt Crock hit it on the head . When Hispanic turnout is comparable to republican caucus numbers the democratic party will blame it all on Titus .

  7. Maybe it's the fact that people are starting to realize that Harry could not identify Nevada on a map. He sold this state years ago to be Obama's water boy..

  8. Leave poor old Harry alone! He's got a lot on his mind these days, much more important than who will do his bidding from a Nevada Congressional district. (And they WILL do his bidding).

    He's got to find new and convincing ways to justify not creating a budget for over 1,000 days - mandated by law, btw, so maybe Harry's afraid of a knock on the door in the middle of the night.

    And then there's that pesky President Obama. Harry said the Senate was in session, and the Bamster said it wasn't and went and appointed some people to Senate confirmed position by himself!! Holeeeee Cowwww, major burn on you Harry! Republicans have to seem much nicer now than the Prez himself these days.

  9. Re Michael Green. I am aware that Oceguera is "running" against Heck, however, up to now, he has not generated much enthusiasm. Heck has a substantial lead in money for the race, and as a registered voter in district 3, I have yet to receive even a simple mailer from Oceguera. Heck's letters to me go directly into the shredder upon receipt. So far, the Dems seem to be content with a 50/50 split in the upcoming house elections. If the DCCC is really serious about the Nevada District 3 race, it has yet to show in the $$$$.

  10. So Dems in Nevada would rather have somebody who looks, acts and sounds like a Hick from the Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginny?

    Freak loons.

  11. Titus has shown in her first term in Congress that she will go against the party line once in while, even dropping an f-bomb in the process. That's gonna count for some.

  12. We need more HONEST public servants like Dina Titus in these turbulent times. She has my vote.

  13. Those folks who feel like the public utilities and Nevada's main industry controls the state and people: "Kihuen's tally included contributions from business leaders in mining, gaming and NV Energy -- three of the biggest contributors in Nevada politics, each with strong ties to Reid.

    Citizens who are struggling, here is a new reason to view Dina Titus and consider the options.

    Blessings and Peace,

  14. Re Star. There isn't a single politician at the state level or above who isn't beholden to mining, gaming, and NVEnergy. To single out Reid only, is disingenuous. Dina Titus will win election in district 1, as it has an overwhelming democratic constituency. Unfortunately, those of us in district 3 will probably be stuck with Norquist drone Heck.