Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008 | 2 a.m.
When state Sen. Dina Titus lost the 2006 race for governor, she blamed her defeat on a poor showing in rural Nevada. And in a moment of regrettable pique, she threw around the word “sexism” after the election, publicly questioning whether rural voters would support female candidates.
Outside a meeting with voters here on Wednesday, Titus was reminded of her 2006 struggle in the rurals, and with a knowing grin, she quipped: “I love rural Nevada, and rural Nevada loves me!”
Titus is running for Congress this year, challenging Rep. Jon Porter in the mostly suburban 3rd Congressional District.
The district includes a few rural communities, though, including Overton and parts of Mesquite, and Titus gave it the old college try at morning events here.
Democrats have lost in rural America by wide margins in recent election cycles, for lack of trying and because of successful Republican efforts to paint them as out-of-touch with rural concerns.
So Democrats like Titus, who grew up in the small town of Tifton, Ga., have traveled the rurals in recent years to make their arguments, though they’ve often fallen on resistant minds.
The longtime state Senate minority leader spent lots of time in rural Nevada in 2006, for naught.
Titus faced polite opposition but respectful gratitude that she showed up here Wednesday, and she may have actually rustled up a vote or two.
The Old Overton Gymnasium has a small basketball court and photos of the championship teams of the 1940s and 1950s, the players all sporting Chuck Taylors.
In a meeting room, Titus sat down for eggs, grits and tater-tots with about two dozen Rotarians. They discussed the float for Veterans Day and the cooking trailer they own and collected money for the polio fund, before Titus made her pitch.
Titus complimented the grits.
She made light of her Southern accent, which apparently was an issue in 2006, when some rural voters mistrusted her as a carpetbagger even though she arrived to teach political science at UNLV 30 years ago.
Titus defended herself against the onslaught of negative ads she’s faced from Porter, who says she “got caught double-dipping,” meaning taking a salary as legislator and UNLV professor at the same time. The accusation is untrue.
Titus said she’d expand tax credits for renewable energy in Nevada and work to fully fund the federal education law No Child Left Behind.
She warned Rotarians about how rural Nevada will be hit hard by budget cuts as a result of the recession, with programs such as rural health care taking hits.
“More than ever we need a voice in Washington,” she said.
The Rotarians asked her about water, a federal lands bill, education and energy.
One voter said the budget cuts Titus referred to weren’t really budget cuts, but cuts in the increases already approved. Titus called that the “Bob Beers argument,” referring to her libertarian colleague in the state Senate.
(Add up new costs for new students, teacher raises and exploding health care costs, she said, and the argument falls apart.)
Tough crowd, all in all.
The Republican Porter seemed the default choice for some voters, despite Titus’ best efforts. They even seemed suspicious of big-city newspapers, with a couple voters declining to give their names.
Dennis Anderson, who owned a cab company in Salt Lake City before retiring here, said he had some regrets for having voted for Porter, because Titus impressed him.
“For somebody to come out here matters,” he said.
Elise McAllister, a registered Republican, said she’s undecided now, and expressed appreciation that Titus showed up.
The next meeting, which included about eight supporters, went a little easier.
Ed Taylor gave Titus an inkling of the literally hundreds of obscure and arcane issues that rural Nevadans lean on their congressional members to deal with: “I’ve got an ax to grind about the Moapa Valley TV District,” he told Titus. “It’s a pig in a poke.”
“They’re dipping into the trough.”
Titus said she’d look into it.
She assured them that Porter is lying to voters about her record on taxes (yes, she’s voted for them, but only when lots of Republicans did too) and double-dipping (see above).
Ralph and Joyce Spencer own the Inside Scoop, a locally famous ice cream parlor and deli. They were farmers in Missouri and ranchers in Utah before coming here.
All their friends are Republicans. Not the Spencers though.
“It’s never been clearer who’s for the middle man, and who’s for the working man,” Ralph Spencer said.
Titus’ next stop: Mesquite — another giant haystack, the needles no doubt just as sparse.