Thursday, June 26, 2014 | 2 a.m.
In a relatively quiet Nevada election year, the race to represent Henderson and Boulder City in Congress will be big and bitter in one of America’s last true swing districts in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Republican incumbent Rep. Joe Heck is trying to hold on to the seat he won in 2010, but Democratic challenger Erin Bilbray, a Nevada native and political consultant, isn’t making it easy.
Bilbray, who runs a nonprofit children’s health care clinic with her pediatrician husband, is attacking Heck as a Washington insider who voted to shut down the government in October.
“I feel that maybe Joe has become so far removed from Las Vegas and Henderson that he really doesn’t understand what’s going on,” she said.
Heck disagrees. He sits on the powerful House Armed Services Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence, where he’s focused on national security, education and the economy.
“I just tell people to look at my record, look at what I ran on and whether or not I fulfilled the obligations I said I’d do,” he said.
It’s safe to say every re-election is difficult for the person who represents Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District. Heck, a military doctor and Army colonel, ousted Democratic Rep. Dina Titus in 2010 to get the job. (Titus then won a more reliably Democratic seat representing Las Vegas.)
District 3 is split fairly evenly between Republicans and Democrats. Political analysts say it leans Republican in 2014, but President Barack Obama won it in 2012. The Washington Post rates Heck’s seat as 96 percent safe, but the district has also pingponged between Republican and Democrat over the years.
Its unique status has drawn the attention of national political operatives and outside groups. In 2012, conservative outside groups spent $3.2 million to help get Heck elected.
Outside spending on the Democratic side is relatively small, but Bilbray is supported by a robust national Democratic congressional campaign, where she has been singled out for extra training and fundraising.
All this means the campaign has the potential to go negative. Come this fall, expect to see outside groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Action Network run TV ads in support of Heck and against Bilbray. It’s possible national Democrats will run ads for Bilbray — though they haven’t bought air time yet, to the Heck team’s great glee.
Both candidates claim the other side has no dirt to dig up. Instead, Heck and Bilbray say they want to run a campaign on the issues.
Heck is a moderate Republican who supports immigration reform and wants to rewrite the 2010 health care reform law known as Obamacare, saying it did nothing to improve patient care. He also touts his office’s constituent outreach program and legislation he’s pushing to promote international tourism in Las Vegas.
“We have to take care of our constituents, and I think we’ve done that,” he said.
Bilbray is a moderate pro-choice Democrat who is deeply involved in women’s issues and says Heck hasn’t done enough to support Southern Nevadans still struggling with the economy. Her father, James Bilbray, served in Congress from 1987 to 1995.
“I am in the trenches every day, and I see what families are going through,” she said.
Both candidates also claim momentum is on their side.
“There’s no question that this is going to be a bare-knuckle brawl,” Bilbray said. “But I feel that we’re going to win this. We’ve got so much energy and excitement on this campaign.”
Heck points to the fact he beat former Nevada Assembly Speaker John Oceguera by eight points in 2012 as an example of how District 3 residents want him as their representative in Congress. Heck also has twice as much campaign cash on hand.
“It will be an interesting race,” he said. “We don’t take anything for granted. We’re going to campaign hard and look forward to getting our message out to the voters of District 3.”