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July 6, 2015

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Jon Ralston:

Titus-Kihuen congressional race will be ugly

If Dina Titus’ cellphone rings on the Ides of March, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear her say, “Et tu, Mr. President?”

That would be one day before filing for office closes next year and, if Thursday’s events are any indication of the nastiness to come, the powers that be in the Democratic Party will go to any lengths to prevent the former congresswoman from challenging their newest darling and presumed Hispanic vote magnet, state Sen. Ruben Kihuen. I don’t think the White House number has shown up yet on Titus’ phone, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does at some point because of what’s at stake here — not the partisan color of the congressional district, but one of the country’s pivotal U.S. Senate contests and the president’s re-election, which may depend on Nevada.

Both candidates held news conferences Thursday — Titus to announce her candidacy for Rep. Shelley Berkley’s seat, which Kihuen had already said he would seek. Titus had waited for the new districts to be drawn before deciding she would rather face the callow Kihuen than take on Speaker John Oceguera in her old district before having to face well-funded GOP Rep. Joe Heck or getting into the new district race that state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford is heavily favored to win over state Sen. John Lee.

I don’t care what arguments Democratic Central make about Titus being better served seeking a rematch with Heck — she lost by a percentage point in 2010. I doubt they could push out Oceguera and Titus doesn’t want to take a chance in a district that just became more Republican in a year when Obama likely can’t, as he did in ’08, drag her across the finish line.

So the woman who represented CD3 while living in CD1 is making the right calculation to run in the district she actually lives in this time around. But her sense of entitlement is only rivaled — nay, surpassed — by the sense of entitlement Kihuen displayed Thursday.

Both of the news conferences were grotesque, but in quite different ways.

Titus went first, in the morning at Dina Titus Estates — a federal housing project, not the mansion I’m sure Republicans believe her university salary and pension paid for. The crowd that may have reached 100 included familiar Democratic faces, including a couple of former party chairs as well as former state Sen. Bob Coffin (he’s half-Hispanic!) and County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani.

Titus’ speech couldn’t have been more formulaic. First, the woman who represented CD3 gave a paean to CD1, waxing almost emotionally about her ties there. Then it was boilerplate about her state and federal legislative records and anti-GOP blather. The end.

But this was just the beginning and encased in Titus’ remarks were two lines obliquely designed to needle Kihuen: “That’s why having someone with a proven record in these troubled times is so important … They need to know they can count on someone who has been there for them from the beginning with more than lip service and vague promises.”

Subtle, she ain’t and never will be.

But if Titus’ announcement was drawn up from the Democratic dinosaur playbook, Kihuen’s event two hours later was populated with the Jurassic Era of Latino activists embracing their man and criticizing Titus for, as one put it, “condescendingly” running in the HISPANIC DISTRICT. (Note: It is not condescending to assume Hispanics will vote for Hispanics.)

The tone of Kihuen’s confab at the Latin Chamber of Commerce became increasingly vicious and comical, with the Latinos urging Titus to make way for Kihuen, whom they insisted they were not just supporting because he is Hispanic. Yes, I am sure they would have been there lending their airy weight to a candidate named Ralph Kramden.

Kihuen added to the unintentional levity by saying he is “not a professional politician” and alluding to “Dina’s 20-plus years in the Legislature.” And after he had said his compelling life history made him most qualified, he was asked if he was saying his personal story trumped Titus’ experience. “Not at all,” he said, risibly, with a straight face.

This race is destined to be close and bloody, and from here to Washington, Democrats worry about the Hispanic vote being suppressed if Kihuen loses. To which Titus retorts: “What about the women’s vote?”

I can’t imagine Titus getting out unless she gets an offer she can’t refuse, one that would carry quite the honorific or land her in a foreign country. And, of course, Obama, Reid & Co. can’t wait until the Ides of March to make the offer.

So if the president calls the relentless, ruthless Senate majority leader anytime soon and wonders if Titus can be persuaded to get out, I’m sure Reid will smile wryly and say:

“Si se puede.”

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