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August 1, 2015

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LETTER FROM WASHINGTON:

Rep. Heck’s House seat among those poised for a fight in ‘14

Congressman Joe Heck (R-NV) responds to a question during a town hall meeting with constituents at Pacific Pines Senior Apartments in Henderson Tuesday, Feb.19, 2013.

Congressman Joe Heck (R-NV) responds to a question during a town hall meeting with constituents at Pacific Pines Senior Apartments in Henderson Tuesday, Feb.19, 2013.

For the past 12 years, Nevada voters have always had a bigger electoral fish to fry than their representatives in the House.

The Silver State has weathered the political near-death of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the vicious battle between Shelley Berkley and Sen. Dean Heller, and a few turns as a swing state in presidential elections.

But in 2014, Nevada’s highest elections are its House races, and among them, experts are predicting a knock-down, drag-out fight in only the 3rd Congressional District.

Nevada has changed dramatically since the last time the ballot was arranged in this way. In 2002, CD3 was new, born of the post-2000 census redistricting. Nevada was President George W. Bush territory — a Republican stronghold that elected a full slate of Republicans to higher office (including Rep. Jon Porter to the newly formed CD3). And in 2002, Nevada didn’t have the sort of national clout that would later come with Reid’s ascent to majority leader.

Now, the national spotlight promises to be turned squarely on Nevada’s southernmost congressional district because the stakes aren’t just whether Rep. Joe Heck or his likely Democratic challenger, Erin Bilbray-Kohn, will prevail.

In 2014, the emerging central question in Washington is whether control of the House will flip, and with fewer races in play than past years, every seat counts.

“We know we are going to be facing potentially difficult races,” National Republican Campaign Committee Chairman Greg Walden said in an interview last month. “And it is a much smaller playing field than it was.”

In 2014, independent experts such as the Rothenberg Political Report estimate that as few as 45 House seats will be in play. That’s about half the roster of seats that were considered up for grabs at a similar point in the 2012 electoral cycle.

However, the real magic number for both parties is 17: If Democrats can flip control of that many House seats, they would take the majority.

With fewer districts comes more national attention to each that is in play, especially in an off-presidential year. That means money. Surrogates. And the biggest turnout machine the party can muster.

In Nevada, turnout machines lately favor Democrats. After a sorry showing in 2002, Reid spent the next several years rebuilding the party, and those efforts paid off in 2008, 2010 and 2012 victories in top-of-the-ticket races. In that time, Nevada has gone from being considered a swing state to a leans-Democratic state.

But CD3 has always been difficult to tie to any statewide pattern or trend.

“Reid has attempted to win CD3 for a number of years. It’s one where he has consistently not been able to pull the right levers,” said Eric Herzik, a UNR political science professor.

In electoral cycles past, however, CD3 has never been Democrats’ top priority.

For their part, national Republicans say Heck will withstand any onslaught of campaigning against him. Heck is the Nevada delegation’s top fundraiser thus far and, with two and a half years of experience, the Nevada delegation’s senior House member.

In fact, Republicans are so confident in Heck’s race that they see a campaign against 4th Congressional District Rep. Steven Horsford, a Democrat, as a potential battleground, as well.

But with no candidates ready to challenge — Walden would only say “we’re talking” to unidentified prospects — observers rank CD4 as safely Democratic territory.

“CD3 is going to be the focus,” Herzik said. “The Republicans don’t have a natural candidate.”

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