Sunday, July 10, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Sen. Harry Reid’s Democratic Party has done a remarkable job preventing contentious primaries over the past few elections. The reasoning: Infighting requires campaign spending on something other than defeating Republicans and leaves internal rifts.
So the congressional campaign outlook for 2012 presents an interesting math problem: For the three seats in Southern Nevada, there are five current or former elected Democrats expressing strong interest in running.
Noting that in 2012 the president will be up for re-election and there will be a U.S. Senate race to worry about, that scenario causes some party observers to worry.
“This is a critical state for the president’s re-election,” said Terry Murphy, a Nevada political consultant. “It would benefit everybody if Democrats selected their candidates rather than fought it out in the primary.”
Another Democratic source imagined two popular Democrats such as former Rep. Dina Titus and state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford duking it out for a congressional seat. He called it “a nightmare scenario” because of the drain on resources it would cause.
(The latest example of the Democratic machine’s distaste for primaries: a targeted effort to weaken Byron Georgiou, who’s running against Reid-supported Rep. Shelley Berkley for the party’s nomination for U.S. Senate.)
This year, the Democratic-controlled Legislature drew congressional boundaries with the help of consultants hired by the state party. Although not mentioned publicly, the three names most often mentioned for those seats were Horsford, Titus and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera.
That worked out cleanly because after the 2010 census, Nevada had four congressional seats — one for the north, where Democrat Treasurer Kate Marshall is running against former Republican state Sen. Mark Amodei, and three in the south.
Oceguera signaled he was willing to take on Rep. Joe Heck; and the two maps passed by the Legislature had him living in Heck’s district.
But politics is rarely simple.
First, Democrats couldn’t strike an agreement with GOP lawmakers or Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval on the boundaries, leaving redistricting, for now, in the hands of the courts.
Second, any sense of anointment that Oceguera, Horsford and even Titus had evaporated once the Legislature adjourned.
Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, has been the recent subject of buzz, pushed by local and national groups trying to recruit a Hispanic candidate in Nevada.
Kihuen said he appreciates that supporters have started a Facebook page to draft him to run for Congress, but said it’s too early to commit.
Would he consider running in a primary against a Democrat?
“I’m going to base my decision on what I feel is best for the people of Nevada, and what my constituents are saying,” he said.
Titus said she can’t comment on electoral politics because she is a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
Also interested is Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, a business-friendly Democrat who openly sparred with Oceguera during the session and took swipes at the control Horsford tried to exert over his caucus.
He called his possible opponents “good people. But it will be easier for me to make a decision because I’m not a political opportunist.”
The glut of options is a shift from early last decade, when the Democrats struggled to find viable candidates to run in the competitive congressional district. Now they have more serious candidates than available seats.
Andres Ramirez, a political consultant, warned against anointing anyone.
“In many instances, the perceived front-runners in the beginning don’t even run,” he said. “It’s way too early.”
Publicly, anyway. Privately, all the potential candidates are preparing.