AP Photo/John Locher
Monday, May 25, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Cresent Hardy hasn’t prepared a speech, so the characteristically blunt congressman just shoots from the hip.
About Cresent Hardy
Background: Hardy was born June 23, 1957, and raised in a Mesquite farming community with cattle, horses and pigs on his father’s ranch.
Religion: Hardy is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Education: He graduated from Virgin Valley High School and attended Utah’s Dixie State College (now known as Dixie State University).
Career: Hardy has served as Mesquite public works director, a Mesquite City Council member and a two-term state assemblyman. He runs a small business as a construction contractor.
Family: He and his wife, Peri, have been married for 32 years and have four children: Kagen, Archer, Stacha and Vonae.
Hobbies: Hunting, fishing and traveling.
Looking back at his five months in office and the whirlwind of lessons he's learned from a big new job that once seemed unattainable, he offers this summary:
“You know, the opportunities that arise in your life, you sometimes never expect them to happen,” Hardy tells a group of workers surrounding him inside a conference room at the United Parcel Service sorting facility near downtown Las Vegas. “So you don’t know what happens but (you have to) be prepared for it in one way or the other.”
To the chagrin of his campaign staff, Hardy is an unpolished speaker prone to the occasional blunder. Today’s minor gaffe comes after a manager’s introductory speech, when Hardy admits that he’s not ready to address the small crowd — then, confoundingly, stresses the importance of preparation. But interactions like these are a chance for Hardy, a Mesquite Republican who is most at home in rural Nevada, to connect with the densely populated, minority-heavy and Democratic-leaning portion of his diverse district.
He’ll have to take advantage of those opportunities if he expects to keep his job longer than his one-term predecessor.
A surprise win
Hardy’s win was unthinkable a year ago. His victory over Democratic incumbent Steven Horsford was one of the most surprising outcomes of November’s midterm elections, when Nevada Democrats watched in horror as the state switched from blue to red.
Until about a month before the election, Horsford seemed well on his way to an easy win to keep the state’s newest district, whose constituent base is a hodgepodge of inner-city and desert dwellers scattered over nearly half the state. Republicans seemed to barely put up a fight by nominating Hardy, a rural assemblyman who lacked name recognition and funding. Hardy’s slim chances seemed doomed during a September fundraiser, when he told donors he agreed with Mitt Romney’s infamous comment that 47 percent of Americans take no personal responsibility but rather “believe the government has a responsibility to care for them.”
But Hardy, like other Nevada GOP candidates, managed to ride a national wave powered by Republican voters who were frustrated by President Barack Obama and his health care reform law. By contrast, Democrats — notoriously bad at mobilizing during midterm elections — didn’t turn out in large numbers.
Sensing their advantage, Republican operatives pounced into action. Hardy’s team even used a Horsford campaign ad narrated by Obama to feed more resentment against the incumbent’s already unpopular party. Although voters in his district had voted for Obama by a 10 percent margin in 2012, Hardy won.
The real work begins
Getting elected was just the beginning of Hardy’s grueling new career. The real work has begun.
Hardy is now in a curious position, representing a district which — at least on paper — seems to favor Democrats. Of the 310,000 total voters in the 4th Congressional District, about 133,000 are registered Democrats, about 99,000 are Republicans and about 72,000 are Independents or nonpartisans, state records show.
Congressional District 4 is politically, geographically and demographically diverse, with a minority population heavily concentrated in urban North Las Vegas. That dichotomy demands balance, and Hardy so far has mostly voted in line with his party — one major exception is not voting to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants deportation relief to certain undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as youths.
Hardy points to his constituent services as proof that he’s sensitive to his district’s ranging needs. Employees at Hardy’s Las Vegas office set residents up with immigration paperwork, veteran services and Medicare assistance.
He wants to gain the loyalty of his constituents by serving them directly.
“That’s how you get to the hearts and minds of people, is being able to get out and meet folks of diverse backgrounds and help them understand my views,” Hardy said during an interview through the basement tunnels that connect member offices to the Capitol across the street. “Maybe they’ll change their mind and maybe they won’t.”
But Democrats accuse him of brushing his inner-city residents aside while latching onto conservative issues that only interest the rural community he represented as a Mesquite assemblyman.
“I think it's kind of an uphill battle to take the stands I've seen him take so far and vote for the things I've seen him vote for so far,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said. “That district is not the Tea Party district that he votes with.”
Throughout his campaign last year, Hardy identified himself as a constitutional conservative who thinks the federal government has overstepped its bounds on everything from health care to land ownership.
He’s held firm to that belief and sponsored two bills aiming to limit Washington’s influence over land in Nevada. Last week he also introduced a bill aiming to revive efforts to naming a Nevada peak after the late President Ronald Reagan.
For the most part, the congressman has blended into the shadows and avoided calling attention to himself. But in a March opinion piece that ran in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he called on state leaders to reconsider the disposal of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.
The move drew howls of protest from Nevada Democrats, including Congresswoman Dina Titus, who accused Hardy of aligning himself with out-of-state politicians who “(have) been trying to ram Yucca Mountain down our throat for years."
He drew the ire of Democrats again when he took to his website to criticize Obama for considering creating another national monument in his district.
But while his voting record and passion projects have been mostly conservative, Hardy has been relatively careful to appease his left-leaning constituents, said John Hudak, a government studies expert at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution.
“He has shown himself to be somewhat political savvy about what his district needs,” Hudak said, pointing to Hardy’s early emphasis on a diverse mix of constituent services. “In that sense, you sort of sense that in that Average Joe personality you can expect a little bit of a coy politician in there. Over the next year, he’ll really start to campaign and we’ll get a better understanding of whether he is that coy campaigner.”
While Hardy ran a successful first race as a sometimes clumsy candidate, too many gaffes could hurt his chances during next year’s election, Hudak said.
At a February luncheon organized by the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce, Hardy prefaced another slip-up during a speech by saying he’s "not real articulate" or "a refined, slick, smooth-talking politician.”
While boasting about his new staff member Kelly Espinoza — a UNLV student who previously worked for the Latin Chamber — Hardy muttered, "Who knows where she got her education." Spotting bemused looks from the crowd, Hardy quickly apologized and called Espinoza "educated" and "ready to serve."
“He’s still sort of outspoken, straight from the hip, and I think he’s brought that personality forward,” Hudak said. “Typically, that shoots-from-the-hip approach is disastrous and you get yourself in trouble.”
Road to re-election
Hardy’s seat will be a top target for Democrats next year, and he’ll have to work early and hard to keep his job. Less than four months after Hardy took office, Ruben Kihuen and Lucy Flores had already lined up to run.
“It’s going to be competitive,” said Kihuen, who was the first to announce. “I’m going to work harder than any candidate or incumbent in winning every single vote of that district.”
But Hardy’s campaign manager, Ryan Erwin, who helped him win last year, is optimistic this year will bring an easier victory.
“We did his campaign before when not many people thought he could win,” Erwin said. “There’s a lot confidence now that he can win re-election than there was in the first election.”
He touts Hardy’s commitment to constituent services and his ability to get along with people that disagree with him. Erwin admits Hardy’s clumsy style “isn’t always the easiest for guys like me,” but that can be an asset, he says — voters always know where Hardy stands on issues. The congressman tells people he grew up in a ranching community, where people speak their mind freely.
“He’s a guy that just keeps his head down and does a good job,” Erwin said. “Whether you are in the urban core or the rural part, everyone is working hard to have a better quality of life. That’s a commonality that is more important than any geographic or political differences.”
First-year members of Congress face a steep learning curve and especially long work hours filled with housekeeping duties like going through orientation, staff management and travel. That period is especially tough for members from competitive districts.
“Being a member of Congress is unlike any other job in the world, and there’s very little that prepares people,” Hudak said. “It’s not that uncommon for people to be lining up to challenge a new member of Congress, and if the incumbent knows they want to run for re-election they have to campaign from the first day.”
Fortunately for Hardy, though, members of Congress aren’t expected to accomplish much their first year. The likelihood of their legislation passing is slim, and they don’t usually get picked to join any rigorous committees. That gives them time to campaign effectively without appearing too focused on political ambitions.
“The most likely time that a congressman is to lose reelection is during his first term. This is the time that is risky for him,” Hudak said. “He has to be busy or look busy.”
As Hardy put it during his UPS meet-and-greet, the freshman congressman just has to “be prepared for it in one way or the other.”
With opponents eager to take him down and the possibility that Democrats will come back swinging in 2016, Hardy likely won't be able to win by just winging it.
Amber Phillips contributed to this story.