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October 19, 2014

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Where’s Porter? Don’t ask Titus, she’s busy

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There was something telling in how, for the second time since launching her campaign against three-term Rep. Jon Porter two months ago, state Sen. Dina Titus took to the gas pumps Monday and seized on the issue that has come to shape the 2008 elections: rising energy costs and offshore drilling.

She held back on the rhetoric.

There were no quotable one-liners, no political haymakers. Not even a mention of Porter’s name. Just a calm, methodical delivery of a multipoint energy plan.

Maybe Titus was subdued by the triple-digit heat searing the blacktop of the Lucky Stop parking lot.

Or, the change in tone reflects a growing confidence on the part of Democrats — here and nationally — that they will finally win Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, which Porter, a moderate Republican, has represented since its creation in 2002.

Adding to that confidence is Porter’s near absence from the campaign trail this summer. He has held no campaign events this year and his constituent visits have been scant. Porter’s seemingly slow start this cycle was brought into sharp focus last week when the influential Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan Washington newsletter, changed its view of the race from “lean Republican” to “toss up.”

The reasons are in the numbers, which Cook analyst David Wasserman says are the worst for any incumbent seeking reelection nationally.

In 2006, Porter outspent challenger Tessa Hafen 2-to-1 and won by less than 4,000 votes in a district that was virtually split between parties. Democrats now hold a registration advantage of more than 23,700 voters. That edge, combined with the Republicans’ damaged brand name and an unpopular governor, should give Porter pause, Wasserman said. There’s also the considerable number of voters new to the district who have never seen Porter’s name on the ballot.

“This is prime campaign season,” he said. “If a candidate is not demonstrating that they are campaigning hard, it’s a sign for serious concern.”

Porter’s campaign rebuffed the criticism, saying the makeup of the district all but guarantees a tight race each cycle.

“The congressman’s campaign will not make any adjustments based on the assessments of political pundits,” said Porter spokesman Matt Leffingwell. “Congressman Porter will campaign on the same record of accomplishments that have brought him back time and time again.”

Nevada Republicans say it’s too early to draw any conclusions, citing the traditional marker of Labor Day, when campaigns generally begin in earnest. Privately, however, some express concern over Porter’s pace, especially given the financial help Titus will receive from national Democrats.

“Every race seems to be his toughest race,” said Robert Uithoven, a Republican operative who ran Jim Gibbons’ campaign for governor and serves as an informal adviser to Sen. John McCain’s campaign here. “Republicans have always been able to count on turnout to win elections, and we’re going to need it now more than any cycle I’ve seen.”

But this year may prove different.

A Pew Research Center poll last month found that record public engagement follows record voter turnout, which many states saw in the presidential primaries. In fact, voter engagement in the 2008 election is by far the highest at this point in the campaign since 1988, the poll found, with 72 percent saying they are giving “quite a lot of thought” to the election.

Pew also highlighted two findings that suggest this year’s high interest will benefit Democrats. For the first time since 1992, more Democrats than Republicans are expressing strong interest in the campaign — and more Democrats say they are more interested in politics than they were four years ago. Also, Republicans face an enthusiasm gap, with less than 50 percent of them expressing satisfaction with their field of candidates, compared with nearly 75 percent of Democrats.

Democratic interest is even more pitched in Nevada because of the state’s early presidential caucus.

Porter faces another problem.

Titus has embraced what Republicans are claiming as their issue this year: offshore drilling, which she favors.

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