Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008 | 2 a.m.
When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opens the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Monday, Dina Titus will be 750 miles away in Nevada.
And when President Bush speaks on opening night of the Republican National Convention a week later in St. Paul, Minn., Titus’ opponent in the fiercely contested Henderson-area congressional race, Republican Rep. Jon Porter, will be home.
Titus, Porter and many other House candidates across the country are steering clear of their conventions this year as they try to position themselves as independent of Washington.
Republicans, particularly, have been running away from party affiliation for months. In fact, Republican leaders are encouraging candidates to create a separate identity as Bush’s approval rating hovers around 28 percent.
David Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the Cook Political Report, said Democrats, too, are distancing themselves from the party of Pelosi. Republicans are trying to make Pelosi an issue in congressional races, portraying her as a symbol of Washington — much as Democrats did to fallen House Republican leader Tom DeLay two years ago.
Particularly in moderate districts or tough campaigns like the one in Henderson, candidates may think they have better a chance if they don’t link their fortunes to a Congress that has approval ratings lower than the president’s.
Staying home “will be an extremely popular option” this year, Wasserman said.
The Titus and Porter campaigns dismiss that analysis, however.
Porter announced this month that he would be sitting out the convention, as he did in 2004. The previous time he attended was in 2000, when he was trying to unseat Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley. He lost.
Porter spokesman Matt Leffingwell said the congressman is staying behind to focus on getting reelected. “One day off at the convention is one day less to make phone calls, to raise money, to do everything you need to do to run the campaign.”
Titus’ campaign made the same argument.
“This is going to shape up to be one of the tightest, if not the tightest, races in the country,” Titus spokesman Andrew Stoddard said. “We’ve got to take advantage of every day we have.”
Titus made no effort to distance herself from some Washington Democrats last week. She stumped for her party’s presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, alongside Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Republican efforts to use Pelosi — as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — against Democrats on the campaign trail have had mixed results. In special elections this spring and summer, three Republican House districts in Illinois, Mississippi and Louisiana have fallen to Democrats.
Nevada’s other closely watched House race is the rematch between Republican Rep. Dean Heller and Democratic challenger Jill Derby.
Heller is not going to the Republican convention. Derby, however, will go to Denver for two days to meet with supporters, including organized labor, in one setting, a spokeswoman said.
Wasserman said Derby is in a tough spot because she is former head of the Nevada Democratic Party. If she stays home, she could be seen as distancing herself from the state party she once led. If she goes, she could be branded as too close to the Washington establishment.
As if on cue, the state Republican Party sent out a release Tuesday afternoon saying Derby is heading to the convention “to cater to Washington special interests.”
Nevada’s third House member, Rep. Shelley Berkley of Las Vegas, will attend the Denver convention, as will Reid, who will give a televised speech.
Republican Sen. John Ensign will attend his party’s convention, as will Gov. Jim Gibbons.