Rep. Dina Titus (D)
Nevada 3rd District
Las Vegas, “The Meadows” in Spanish, began as a stop along the Old Spanish Trail trading route between Santa Fe and California in the 1830s. Water from artesian wells had created vast grasslands in the area and let traders replenish their supplies. In the early 20th century, Las Vegas was one of the termini of the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad, a link to Nevada’s silver mines. Even at the end of the 1930s, when gambling was legalized in Nevada, it was still a town of less than 10,000. Then came decades of amazing growth, as Las Vegas became America’s destination for gambling and topflight entertainment. From 2000 to 2008, the Las Vegas metro area grew by 36%, to 1.9 million, making it the seventh fastest-growing metropolitan area in America. But given the fast pace of building in the Las Vegas metro area, it was particularly hard hit by the crisis in the credit markets, and the red-hot real estate market bottomed out. Clark County had one of the highest rates of pre-foreclosure filings in the nation in 2007, and the number of foreclosures increased in 2008. This is still frontier country, one of the few places in the nation with more men than women. Las Vegas has spread across the desert in every direction from the few blocks around Fremont Street that it occupied in the 1930s, and today it is an exuberant, undisciplined and chaotic city.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 3rd Congressional District is a Y-shaped segment of Nevada’s Clark County made up of most of the suburbs of Las Vegas. It includes the south end of the Las Vegas Strip and McCarran International Airport, and spreads west, northeast and south. It includes active retiree communities, blue-collar towns such as Blue Diamond that still have a rural flavor, and a variety of planned (and often gated) areas like Summerlin, where young families have come for job opportunities and retired baby boomers have purchased vacation homes. Southeast of Las Vegas, the district takes in two additional population hubs: Henderson, ranked third in the nation in per capita online commercial activity by the auction site eBay, and Boulder City, originally built for federal workers at Hoover Dam. (Under an old agreement with the federal government, Boulder City is the only place in Nevada where gambling is prohibited.) The 3rd also includes the Nevada halves of Lake Mead and Lake Mohave on the Arizona border, and the state’s southernmost tip, where Searchlight, the hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is found. The district was created after the 2000 census to have an equal number of registered Democrats and registered Republicans. Clark County historically was the most Democratic part of Nevada, but newcomers in the 1990s tilted Republican. The district gave small pluralities to Al Gore in 2000 and George W. Bush in 2004. Democrats gained a 40,000-person advantage in registered voters before the 2008 election, and Democratic nominee Barack Obama carried the district with 55% of the vote.
Rep. Dina Titus (D)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: May 23, 1950, Thomasville, GA .
Home: Las Vegas.
Education: Col. of William & Mary, B.A. 1970; U. of GA, M.A. 1973; FL St. U., Ph.D., 1976.
Religion: Greek Orthodox.
Family: Married (Tom Wright).
Elected office: NV Senate, 1989-2008, Minority ldr., 1993-2008
Professional Career: N. TX St. U., Asst. prof., 1975-76; UNLV, Chmn., Dept. of Public Admin., 1979-1980, Asst. prof., 1977-1982, Assoc. prof., 1982-1990, Prof., 1990-present
The new congresswoman from the 3rd District is Dina Titus, a Democrat elected in 2008. Titus’ lifelong interest in politics can be traced to her upbringing in Tifton, Ga. Her grandfather owned a restaurant across from the courthouse, where community officials would gather to discuss politics. Her father ran for the City Council, and her Republican uncle served in the Georgia Legislature. Titus recalls attending a campaign rally for Hubert Humphrey, the Minnesota Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1968. She followed her interest in politics to William and Mary University, where she majored in political science. She then got a Ph.D. in government from Florida State University. In 1977, she began teaching at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where she has authored two books on atomic testing at the Nevada Test Site.
|Dina Titus (D)||165,912||(47%)||($1,777,641)|
|Jon Porter (R)||147,940||(42%)||($3,182,799)|
|Jeffrey Reeves (I)||14,922||(4%)|
|Joseph Silvestri (Lib)||10,164||(3%)|
|Dina Titus (D)||22,232||(85%)|
|Barry Michaels (D)||2,312||(9%)|
After a decade of teaching, Titus was ready for some practical experience. In 1988, she was elected to the Nevada Senate, and in 1993, she was elevated to minority leader. As a state legislator, Titus fought development that threatened the rural areas of the Las Vegas Valley. In 2003, she authored a bill to halt development around Red Rock Canyon. It passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously. She also advocated for the rights of disabled persons.
In 2006, Titus ran for governor. In the Democratic primary, she defeated Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson 54%-36%. In the general election, she faced GOP Rep. Jim Gibbons. The two candidates were a stark contrast: Gibbons was a native-born northern Nevadan who embodied the “cow counties” north of Las Vegas, whereas Titus was more representative of the Las Vegas metro area. Titus attacked Gibbons as an “inconsequential” Washington backbencher and offered a campaign platform of “five E’s: economic development, education, energy, environment and ethics.” Gibbons called Titus a tax-and-spend liberal—he referred to her as “Dina Taxes”—and ran ads on Reno television reminding voters of disparaging remarks she had made about northern Nevada years before. Gibbons heavily outspent Titus and won, despite suffering a rash of very negative publicity in the weeks prior to the election, including allegations from a casino cocktail waitress that he had propositioned and then threatened her. No charges were filed in the case. After the long and bruising campaign, Titus returned to the state Senate with the hope that the Democratic caucus could retake the majority in the next election, and she could cap her career by becoming majority leader.
By 2008, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was ready to target Republican Jon Porter’s seat. Porter had been elected to three consecutive terms but by increasingly smaller margins. Democratic Clark County prosecutor Robert Daskas contemplated taking on Porter, but opted out. The DCCC then recruited Titus, though she had said in 2007 she wasn’t interested in running for the seat. After one legislative session, which gave her time to recuperate from her grueling gubernatorial campaign, she changed her mind.
Some Nevada politicos initially wrote Titus off, but the district’s politics were volatile and ripe for change. Between the 2006 and 2008 elections, the district was feeling the effects of the high housing foreclosure rates, and by July 2008, Democrats held a distinct advantage in registered voters. Titus campaigned as a moderate and touted a renewable-energy plan to create jobs in Nevada. She claimed that in Congress, Porter had favored the financial interests of oil companies over those of ordinary citizens, and she tried to tie him to the unpopular Bush administration. Porter and the conservative group Freedom’s Watch took a page from Gibbons’ campaign and ran ads painting Titus as a politician who had a history of supporting higher taxes. Another Porter ad claimed Titus was guilty of double-dipping because she had simultaneously received a salary as a University of Nevada professor and as a state legislator. Titus, who had taken unpaid leaves of absence during legislative sessions, responded, “I hope Nevadans are as disgusted as my mother is by [Porter’s] lies and distortions.”
Porter outspent Titus $3 million to $1.8 million, but his financial advantage could not overcome the district’s increasingly Democratic tilt. Titus won 47% to 42%. Over half of the registered voters in Clark County cast early ballots, and over half of those ballots were cast by registered Democrats. In an ironic twist, Democrats won control of the Nevada state Senate, but the woman who had once aspired to be majority leader was headed to Washington. She got seats on committees that oversee education and labor, homeland security and transportation and infrastructure.