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January 22, 2018

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jon ralston:

Dina Titus and her unfortunate run of political bad luck

Dina Titus is one of those politicians who has been at the wrong place at the wrong time most of her public life, with one notable exception: 2008, when she rode the Obama wave to wash away Jon Porter’s congressional career.

With two months until Election Day this cycle, the Titus tides may have returned to form as the freshman congresswoman has no top-of-the-ticket help to offset a building GOP tsunami that may reanimate the career of Joe Heck, who drowned in the 2008 Democratic flood two years ago.

And judging by the overture to the post-Labor Day period when people start to pay attention — what, there are other races besides the U.S. Senate race? — Titus & Co. hope to plagiarize from the 2008 Democratic game plan that defeated state Sen. Heck. That strategy was cutthroat, expensive and intellectually dishonest — qualities that usually work well in campaigns and were devastatingly well executed by the Democrats last cycle.

But that was then. This year Titus has no one at the top to generate the kind of enthusiasm Barack Obama did among the faithful and independents to carry her over the finish line. She beat Porter by 5 percentage points in the 3rd Congressional District; Obama won the district by 13 points. Without him, she loses.

This year, it’s Reid-Reid at the top and somehow it doesn’t seem the same. I know Harry Reid. I know Rory Reid. Neither is Barack Obama.

So what does Titus do in a tossup race during a year in which most close contests, all other factors being equal, should break to the Republicans?

If there’s one thing you can say about Titus — and take it from someone who once declared her career over — she is resilient and adaptable. But her timing ... She spent session after session as state Senate minority leader, never getting the number of seats to be majority leader. The cycle she departed, Democrats took the majority.

In 2002, having had enough of being second fiddle to Bill Raggio, she decided to consider a bid for the Clark County Commission. But Rory Reid also decided he wanted the open seat, and she thought better of the idea, erroneously blaming Reid the Elder (who tried to discourage his son) from costing her a chance to escape Carson City.

In 2006, Titus tried to become the first female governor and ran against a congressional backbencher named Jim Gibbons. But Gibbons had the money and the issue — “Dina Taxes” — and narrowly defeated her despite a trifecta of scandals during the final weeks.

Despite my political obituary and despite passing on a congressional run in late 2007, Titus finally found propitious timing in 2008 when the Democrats, having tiered down to a little-known lawyer, lost their candidate to family issues. Titus jumped in and defeated Porter.

Fate had finally smiled on her. But fate is fickle, the economy imploded, and Titus is in serious jeopardy of becoming the state’s first one-term representative since David Towell nearly four decades ago.

So far, her approach — and that of her allies — has the distinct, unmistakable scent of desperation.

Claims that she voted for the bank bailout, which occurred before she was elected. Union ads that exhume distortions of Heck’s legislative record and his Social Security position. And a new Titus spot that takes one Heck statement out of context and then distorts a tax pledge he signed.

So this is where we have arrived with two months to go: Titus clearly thinks that unless she can scare people into believing that Heck is Sharron Angle, she cannot win. But Heck is not Angle, so it is unlikely to bear much fruit.

The good news for Democrats is Dina Titus is no Shirley Breeden, the cipher the Democrats used to erase Heck from the Legislature. She is tough, smart and resilient. Oh, and she also has about three times as much money as Heck, which might help.

Titus’ fortunes are inextricably linked to Harry Reid’s. It is amusing to think that the man she blamed for derailing her escape from Carson City eight years ago, who many fear may drag down the ticket, might actually save Titus. No, not Reid himself, but the infrastructure he has erected in the center of the state’s political activity this cycle — her congressional district, where all the major races will be decided.

On Nov. 2, we will know if the 3rd Congressional District is the right place at the right time for Titus once again, pushed to victory by the Democratic turnout machine, or if it will be the wrong place at the wrong time, as the GOP deluge submerges her hopes of a second term.

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