RENO, Nev. — Republicans itching to throw out Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in November also smell a chance to win back a swing congressional seat Democratic Rep. Dina Titus won last time around, but veteran Nevada Republicans say it won't be easy.
Six-term Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley's 1st District seat in Las Vegas was redrawn by Nevada's Democrat-controlled Legislature 10 years ago to ensure it stays in the hands of their party, which now has nearly a 2-to-1 registration advantage there.
"That district was tailored to ensure a Democrat for life," said Bill Raggio, the state Senate Republican leader who has served since 1973.
The mirror image for Republicans is second-term Rep. Dean Heller's 2nd District, which covers Reno and most of the rest of the state and has never been represented by a Democrat.
"I think he'll be there as long as he wants to stay," Reno Republican Mayor Bob Cashell said.
But the 3rd District that Titus snatched from incumbent Rep. Jon Porter in 2008 has been a priority for both parties for years and is targeted again this go round.
Titus faces Republican Joe Heck, an emergency room technician and small business owner who lost his state Assembly seat to a relative unknown two years ago in the same Democratic tidal wave that helped sweep Titus to victory in Henderson and other towns just outside of Las Vegas.
"I think that will be a very tight race," said Raggio, who served with Titus, who stepped down as Assembly speaker to challenge Porter in 2008 after losing a gubernatorial bid to GOP Gov. Jim Gibbons in 2006.
"Obviously you have an anti-incumbent attitude across the country. But Dina is a good candidate. She obviously has political smarts, so she is not going to be easy to beat," Raggio said. "But Joe Heck is in there at the right time. If a Republican ever had a chance to win back a seat, I think that is it."
Titus and Heck drew the battle lines just hours after their primary victories Tuesday night.
"The Republicans in Washington and the tea partiers around the country are primed for a fight and we know they will spend millions lying about my record and destroying our hard work," said Titus, a former political science professor at UNLV. [See who is giving money to Titus.]
Heck, who said he didn't get along with Titus in the Legislature, countered that her positions are just as "out of touch" with hardworking Nevadans as those of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
"I will be a fiercely independent voice for Nevada families, not a rubber stamp for the Democrats' extravagant, out of control spending," he said.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee lists Titus among its 42 most important incumbents in the November election. Outspent by Porter last time $2.8 million to $1.7 million, she has raised $1.3 million this cycle and had nearly $1 million in her campaign warchest as of mid-May, compared to the $466,000 Heck had raised with about $281,000 cash on hand.
Andrew Stone, spokesman for the DCCC's Western Caucus, said Berkley's seat is safe and conceded it would be unlikely the relatively unknown Democratic challenger Nancy Price would knock off Heller.
But Titus' district is split down the middle and Stone said they are determined to secure her re-election.
"Over the last year and a half, Congresswoman Titus has worked incredibly hard to be effective for her constituents in Nevada," Stone said, noting she was one of the first in Congress to begin contacting lenders directly to try to avoid individual foreclosures in the state with more than any other. "Joe Heck has a history of looking out for himself instead of anybody else."
In the 2nd District, Heller is not expected to have any trouble against Price, a U.S. Air Force veteran and former member of the state Board of Regents who won the Democratic primary by only 349 votes over Reno lawyer Ken McKenna. [See which industries are giving money to Heller.]
"'The odds would be Heller wins that easily. I can't even tell you who his Democratic opponent is," Raggio said.
Price thinks Heller is vulnerable as "part of a block of votes in Congress that just want to undermine the president."
Heller defeated Democrat Jill Derby in both 2006 and 2008 — the first time after barely surviving a three-way GOP primary that included Nevada First Lady Dawn Gibbons and Sharron Angle, the former assemblywoman whose conservative views backed by the tea party won her the nomination on Tuesday to face Reid in November.
"Jill Derby came close. Sharron Angle came close," Price said. "I'm hoping to go after all those people who have voted against Heller previously."
Price, who will have to overcome a huge fundraising disadvantage, thanked her supporters with an e-mail on Wednesday asking for their continued support.
"Now I have a boatload of work to do. Don't go away, I need you," she wrote.
Berkley is expected to cruise past Kenneth Wegner, the same Republican she beat the last two times.
"She's in a district that if there is any anti-incumbent feeling it would be minimal," Raggio said.