Commentary - April 21, 2017 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar
Nevada Newsmakers

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, has been in the Nevada political game for a long time.

Now she has arrived at the crossroads of her career.

Before she held her first congressional seat in 2009, she spent 20 years in the Legislature -- 15 as the senate minority leader -- where she led the loyal opposition to the reign of the late, great Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno.

Later, in 2006, she lost by four points to Jim Gibbons in a tough and nasty gubernatorial race.

It was devastating at first but turned out to be best for Titus' career. The great recession hit Nevada shortly after Gibbons' victory and helped lead to his downfall. That could have been Titus' fate.

It proved, however, that when Titus found herself flat on her face, she picked herself up and got back in the race. Now, Titus has won a congressional seat that's so safe for a Democrat that you'll need a stick of dynamite to get her out.

Yet Titus remains ambitious. She is now considering a run for the U.S. Senate, taking on Republican Dean Heller, who will most likely have more money than her if she runs.

Heller is the only Republican up for re-election in 2018 who is from a state that voted for Hillary Clinton. It makes him look vulnerable and sparks Titus' ambitions. She's already planning strategy.

"I'm gonna have to come up here and ride a horse in the Nevada Day Parade," Titus joked, referring to Heller, who rides a horse in the annual Carson City parade, along with his wife, Lynne.

Titus could run, win and achieve the apex of her career -- a member of the most exclusive fraternity in the nation, the U.S. Senate.

Nevada would then have two female U.S. senators, destroying the glass ceiling.

Or Titus could lose and her political career would be over. (See Shelley Berkley).

Unlike losing to Gibbons, there would be no coming back from a loss to Heller. Time is not on Titus' side. She will be 74 when that Senate seat opens up again six years from 2018.

Or she could live happily-ever-after in the U.S. House, in a vibrant district that includes the Las Vegas Strip and the new Raiders' stadium. (she says every possible site is in her district).

So it's now or never for Titus, from Tifton, Ga.

"It will be my last opportunity to run for the Senate," she said after an interview on Nevada Newsmakers. "There is no question about that. And that is something that I think about."

Heller's 'vunerability'
Yet this "vulnerability" of Heller may be a shallow assessment, Titus said. This may prove a tough year for a Democratic rookie to break in, even with President Trump's bumbles and stumbles.

Five of the seven other GOP senators up for re-election are from states Trump won by double digits. Even with Trump's low approval ratings, it's hard to see a Democrat challenging Republicans in states like Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee and Wyoming. So the senators in those races could funnel more support to Heller, Titus said.

More importantly, as Chris Cillizza writes in the Washington Post, "By contrast, 10 Democratic senators are running for re-election in states Trump carried last November. Trump won half of those states — Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia — by double digits."

That worries Titus.

"It is certainly is a factor because the Senate Democratic Caucus is going to protect its own before it invests in taking out some Republicans," Titus said. "Heller is said to be the most vulnerable senator and we have seen that repeatedly come from a number of different sources. But you are right. They (Senate Democratic Caucus) have got to save Indiana, they've got to save West Virginia."

Heller recently reported having $2.6 million "cash on hand" for the upcoming election. Of course it's very early. Titus reported in her April Federal Election Commission report of having just $274,000 on hand, according to a Tweet by The Nevada Independent's reliable Riley Snyder.

Titus, who said she has no defined date when she would officially announce her candidacy, also side-stepped a question on how much money it would take to defeat Heller.

"The last Senate race was the most expensive," she said referring to the Cortez-Masto vs. Joe Heck race in 2016. "It seems like Catherine spent about $16 million. Joe Heck spent a little less than that. But the total was about $80 million and that shows you how much money comes from the outside (PACs not aligned officially with candidate).

"Heller has certainly got more in the bank than I do at this point," Titus said. "But once you get in the race, that's when it all starts. The money will come, whether it comes earlier or later."

Titus: Keeping others out?
Titus' early candor on her possible plan to run the Senate puzzles me. Did she seemingly plant her flag for Democratic dibs on the race to ward off other candidates?

I saw a photo of Titus with former state Treasurer Kate Marshall on Twitter a few days after Titus first gave an indication of her plans. Marshall, who ran a professional congressional campaign in the North and lost in 2011, would also be considered a contender for that Senate slot.

When Titus was asked if she made her announcement to sway others to keep out of the race, she said:

"Oh, if only if it were that easy."

"No, this just came out of a conversation with you," Titus said, referring to Nevada Newsmakers. "Kate is a fine friend and I think she will run for something and be successful but I don't know what office, yet."

Titus continued and revealed this:

"The point is, I don't want to say, 'You can't run.' What other people do does not have any effect on what I do. But it doesn't hurt for people to know that if they are thinking about running, there's a chance that they'll have a primary."

With the retirement of Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrats need a new leader. Titus has fought, won and lost over her long political career. She's even defied Harry. No one active in the party has the depth of campaign and governing experience of Titus.

Does that make her the new, de facto leader of Nevada Democrats?

"I hope maybe to earn that position, she said. "I am kind of the senior member, that is true. But we will see how it plays out in the next election cycle."

That powerful "Reid Machine" that has helped Democrats win in Nevada before will not be there for Titus, if she battles Heller.

"I worry that we don't have the infrastructure and the leadership as a party. It is more divided," Titus said. "Also, there are the internal battles between the people who are more progressive to the left and those who are more establishment. That has got to be resolved. You see that at the national level ... and that is true for Nevada, too."