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December 22, 2014

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Joe Biden visit signals hard race for Dina Titus

Democrats see her reelection as key to retaining House


Rep. Dina Titus, shown speaking on election night, is the first Democrat to represent her district.

Rep. Dina Titus, shown speaking on election night, is the first Democrat to represent her district.


Vice president Biden visits Vegas to help Democratic lawmaker raise money.

Vice president Biden visits Vegas to help Democratic lawmaker raise money.

Bracing for a tough election cycle in 2010, the White House sent Vice President Joe Biden to Las Vegas Sunday to boost the campaign coffers of Democratic Rep. Dina Titus.

Biden’s visit is the largest indication yet that Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District is a top priority for the Obama administration and Democrats as they seek to maintain congressional majorities and stem losses in next year’s midterm elections. The vice president told more than 150 people at a private fundraiser at the Atomic Testing Museum that he had campaigned in 54 House districts this year.

Biden said the economic stimulus package had helped the country avoid a depression and that the economic tide is now turning, predicting net job growth by early next year. And Titus, he said, is among the lawmakers who have cast the tough votes to make it happen.

The Republican National Campaign Committee and the camp of Titus’ leading Republican rival, former state Sen. Joe Heck, used the visit to advance their own narrative: that Titus is a loyal foot soldier in the Washington establishment, promoting an “extreme agenda” that will do little to help the economic recovery.

“No matter how many D.C. politicians line up to help Dina Titus, the line won’t be nearly as long as the one at the Southern Nevada unemployment office,” said Grant Hewitt, Heck’s campaign manager.

While Democrats hold a 10-point registration advantage in the largely suburban district, the political environment ensures the contest will be hard-fought.

Last year, Titus ran a quiet campaign and won, due in no small part to Barack Obama’s wave of support and a worsening economy, which voters blamed on incumbents.

Now, she’s the incumbent, in a state that ranks second in the nation in unemployment. Economists have noted that the state will lag the national recovery because of its heavy reliance on the gaming and construction industries, which have taken severe hits in the recession. Voters will likely be looking to cast blame.

The Pew Reseach Center for the People & the Press found this month that support for incumbents is near an all-time low, on par with ratings in 1994 and 2006, when the party in power lost control.

Titus also faces the challenge of appealing to a strong — and growing — bloc of independent voters in her traditionally conservative district. In a survey last week, Gallup found that since July Republicans have increased their lead among unaffiliated voters by 22 points. Fifty-two percent of independents prefer the Republican in their district. Titus is the first Democrat to hold the seat, after ousting three-term Republican Jon Porter.

After failing to reach the majority threshold in last year’s vote, she has worked doggedly to establish herself as a legislative player. (She received 40,000 fewer votes in her district than Obama.)

“It is a very exciting time to be in Washginton,” Titus told the crowd. “I don’t want to sound immodest, but I do believe we are making history. The challenges we face are great ... but the will and spirit are there to get us out of this recession.”

She cited the cash-for-clunkers program, the stimulus, and the first-time homebuyer tax credit as examples of victories.

“Even the old timers are impressed so much is going on,” Titus said. “It’s not a time for the fainthearted.”

Biden, elected to seven terms in the Senate, said he was impressed. The stimulus, he said, gives Nevada and the country a firm foundation.

“This is about giving middle class people a fighting chance to get back up,” Biden said. “We are not interested in building a new economy based on a new bubble. We’re looking for people to do the things our parents did, their generation did. When they built a foundation for economic growth, they built on basic fundamentals.”

He said the stimulus was responsible for providing 190,000 Nevadans with unemployment insurance. The legislation has also pumped $500 million into people’s pockets through tax cuts and kept about 4,000 educators employed, he said. The state received $187 million to maintain Medicaid. All told, Biden said, Nevada has received $1 billion and will receive another billion.

On health care, he praised Titus for her support, saying that without reform the country had no chance of “getting control of our federal budget.”

Republicans have pledged to go after Democrats who supported the health legislation and Titus found herself in the cross-hairs last week. She’s one of eight Democratic lawmakers being targeted in ads by the 60 Plus Association, an advocacy group that calls itself the “conservative alternative” to AARP. The group plans to spend $1.5 million on television ads, highlighting cuts to the popular Medicare Advantage program under the House legislation.

Biden issued a challenge to Titus’ Republican rivals, saying they owe voters more than rhetoric.

“I love these guys who are going after Dina and me and Barack,” he said. “They hate the fact that we’re doing too much ... Mark my words, no matter who her opponent is, they will show up to a new construction project and they will tell you how we shouldn’t have spent that money.”

For her part, Titus told her supporters she’s ready for the fight. She quoted Elvis Presley: “I was born standing up and talking back.”

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