Reid Could be Difference-Maker in District 1

Here’s a
stack of thoughts on the battle in Congressional District 1 Democratic primary between
former Rep. Dina Titus and State Sen. Ruben Kihuen:

Politicos and commentators have made much of Sen. Harry Reid’s role. All signs point to him supporting Kihuen even if he remains quiet in public, thanks to the number of former campaign staffers working on Kihuen’s campaign and the endorsements the first-term state senator has received.

This is Reid at his best or worst, depending on your point of view, but it isn’t news. Reid often has involved himself in races, but without the degree of attention here. Yes, he recently did a lot to induce Byron Georgiou to give up his primary challenge to Rep. Shelley Berkley in the race to run against Sen. Dean Heller. That won a lot of attention.

You can make the case that Reid should stay out of these things. You also can make the case that Reid has a heavy stake in what goes on in Nevada and his party, as the state’s senior and most powerful Democrat and as Senate majority leader. But whatever he’s doing, it’s hardly the first time, and it won’t be the last.

In fact, Reid subtly involved himself in a previous primary in which Titus was a candidate, and that may be an object lesson.  in 2006, joined by several state Democratic powers, he signed a letter urging the Democratic candidates for governor to make nice during the primary and remember that they were all Democrats. It wasn’t exactly meant to help Titus: Her opponent was Jim Gibson, the mayor of Henderson and a very conservative Democrat, and she attacked him as such, despite the letter.

Titus won that race by 17 percent—a substantial margin. It wasn’t that Democrats resented that letter and voted accordingly for Titus.  Far more importantly, she ran a hard, tough campaign against Gibson, and had no problem attacking him as a good ol’ boy who lacked her Democratic bona fides. Could Kihuen be in for something similar—especially given his apparent support from the power structure these days, including the laughable claim some are floating that Titus is more conservative than he is, and in his six years in the Legislature, he has done far less than Titus has in 20 years in the Legislature and two years in the House (indeed, Kihuen’s legislative resumé looks very thin in comparison, as does his role in the party).

Why Kihuen has substantial party support isn’t hard to figure out.  He is a Hispanic running in a district with a sizable Hispanic minority.  The national Democratic Party wants Hispanics to turn out strong on Election Day, especially in a swing state like Nevada, especially when Barack Obama faces a tough fight for re-election. No argument there.

So, Kihuen and Titus are running in what is supposed to be a safe Democratic seat—much of Berkley’s old district, with about a 2-1 advantage in registration. In other words, Republicans may not put many eggs in that basket, preferring to concentrate on protecting Rep. Joe Heck’s seat and maybe helping state Sen. Barbara Cegavske against the winner of the Democratic primary between state Sens. Steven Horsford and John Lee in a district where the Democratic advantage is 13 percent but it includes six rural counties.

Let’s make believe that identity politics play out as Democrats hope. Wouldn’t it be more logical for Hispanics to turn out big in a primary?  And then, if Kihuen wins the primary, where is the same motivation for the general election—when Obama and other Democrats will need them? Thus, the question: Have Democrats calculated this factor? Do they have to hope for a strong Republican candidate in District 1?

The pieces certainly are moving around the chessboard, aren’t they?

Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.