Published Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012 | 5:39 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012 | 7:29 p.m.
Democratic State Sen. Ruben Kihuen announced Tuesday evening he is suspending his bid to represent Nevada’s 1st Congressional District, ending an already bitter primary fight between two prominent public figures in Nevada’s most Democrat-leaning district.
Kihuen and former Rep. Dina Titus, also a Democrat, both declared themselves candidates for Congressional District 1 this fall, setting up a battle almost nobody in the party wanted and forcing politicians to silently take sides.
“Unfortunately, the reality is that continuing my efforts to win in what would promise to be a resource-draining primary at this time is not in the best interest for me, my family, my community and my party,” Kihuen said in a statement announcing his departure from the race.
Kihuen pledged to remain in the state Senate, and “do everything I can” to help elect what is the party’s now uncontested bill: President Barack Obama for the White House, Rep. Shelley Berkley for the Senate, state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford for the 4th District, state Assembly Speaker John Oceguera for the 3rd District, and his old rival, Titus, for the 1st.
But up until this announcement, things were not so cohesive and harmonious.
Kihuen, 31, was the first to announce his candidacy for the 1st District, in the midst of a contentious redistricting process. That set off a scramble among Democratic candidates who had announced their intention to run to fall into congressional silos even before the lines were drawn.
He was seen as the favorite of the party’s fastest-growing Hispanic demographic, and of the party’s top kingmaker, Sen. Harry Reid.
Democrats pressured Titus to step aside and declare herself for the swing 3rd District, the one she’d represented before losing by a slim margin to Republican Rep. Joe Heck.
But Titus didn’t accept that tacit determination, opting instead for the safer 1st District seat, where any Democrat who gets elected stands a strong chance of being re-elected for several cycles to come.
But even if the opinion of the party power elite was against Titus, the numbers — polls, fundraising, even age — were against Kihuen.
An early internal poll from the Titus campaign showed the former congresswoman pulling seven times the vote Kihuen could muster districtwide, and about three times as many votes as Kihuen among the Hispanics that were supposed to be his base.
The Titus campaign also more than doubled Kihuen's in 2011 fundraising, a feat they loudly trumpeted last week when numbers were released. As of Dec. 31, Titus had raised $422,000, keeping $327,000 in cash on hand, while Kihuen had only raised $189,000, with about $135,000 cash on hand.
Titus was gracious in her statement about Kihuen’s departure.
“Sen. Kihuen is a dedicated public servant who has always put the interests of Nevada first. He ran a strong campaign that inspired young people to work for the good of our state,” Titus said. “I look forward to working with him to create jobs, advocate for minority interests, and diversify Nevada’s economy.”
But those who backed Kihuen did not seem to coordinate with the Titus campaign about his departure, as top party officials had had a chance to praise Kihuen for his decision and magnanimously endorse Titus before her campaign was able to scramble together a response.
“Sen. Ruben Kihuen is an outstanding public servant with a very bright future in Nevada politics,” state party Chairwoman Roberta Lange said in a statement. “Nevada Democrats are united behind Dina Titus and we look forward to sending her back to Congress to fight for Nevada families.”
Reid was effusive in his parting praise for Kihuen.
“Sen. Kihuen remains a rising star in Nevada and the Democratic Party. Each day, he breaks new barriers and inspires tens of thousands of young people with his hard work on behalf of this state and his commitment to helping all Nevadans achieve a better life for themselves and their families,” Reid said in a statement. Last month, Reid brought Kihuen to the Capitol as his invited guest to observe the State of the Union address to Congress.
“With Tea Party Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, Nevada’s middle-class families need Dina Titus in their corner fighting to protect Medicare and Social Security, create good-paying jobs that can’t be shipped overseas and holding Wall Street bankers and Big Oil executives accountable,” Reid continued. “I am proud to endorse her bid for Congress and look forward to working with her to put Nevadans back to work.”