Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Dina Titus gracefully accepted the endorsement of the state teachers union Wednesday in her race for Congress, pledging to overhaul No Child Left Behind and increase access to college educations. But the real message of the news conference was the man standing behind her, Rahm Emanuel.
The mere presence of the Chicago congressman, who heads the House Democratic caucus and led his party’s efforts to retake Congress two years ago, shows the importance national Democrats have placed on the election for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District.
Titus, a state senator from Las Vegas, is among the party’s top-tier candidates and represents the toughest challenge of Republican Rep. Jon Porter’s career. The political winds are against the three-term incumbent. In 2006, he eked out a victory over challenger Tessa Hafen, winning by less than 4,000 votes when voter registration was evenly split. Today Democrats outnumber Republicans by 25,400 voters.
Higher Democratic voter registration numbers will also help Jill Derby, the former state party chairwoman, who is running against incumbent Dean Heller in the 2nd Congressional District. Two years ago Heller defeated Derby by about 5 percentage points.
The registration surge is largely due to the dueling campaigns of Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in Nevada’s early presidential caucus.
Although the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee two years ago supported Hafen, an aide to Sen. Harry Reid seeking her first elective office, its help — in the form of political ads — came late in the campaign. By contrast, in July the committee reserved $916,000 worth of TV advertising time for this year’s race.
Titus said the money would prevent the critical mistake of her failed gubernatorial campaign. “You can’t wait a month after being attacked when you don’t have the resources to go on the air,” she said. “We have the resources now.”
As Emanuel promised Titus, “We got your back.”
The huge ad buy forced the hand of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which reserved about $550,000 in advertising time last month.
Emanuel attacked Porter for voting against education funding — at the behest, he said, of President Bush.
“Time and again he worked lock step with George Bush,” he said, noting that Porter supported the president’s initiatives 93 percent of the time in 2006, according to an annual ranking by the Congressional Quarterly. “All of a sudden he found out he didn’t agree with George Bush. Well, you don’t get to agree with George Bush every other time except when an election time comes.”
Porter spokesman Matt Leffingwell said Emanuel was cherry-picking votes. He noted that Porter supported a $14.5 billion increase in Pell Grant funding in the current Congress. “These are the sort of reckless charges that occur when you employ the most partisan Democrat in Congress to carry out your dirty work,” Leffingwell said.
Both campaigns launched positive TV ads this week.