Democrat Dina Titus is returning to Congress after losing reelection in 2010 to Republican Joe Heck in Nevada’s 3rd District. The game changed for the 2012 election when redistricting moved Titus’s home to the more liberal, Vegas-based 1st District. Incumbent and fellow Democrat Shelley Berkley vacated the House seat to run for the Senate, creating an opportunity for a Titus comeback.
Born and raised in Tifton, Ga., Titus retains her thick Southern drawl. “I get teased a lot because I haven’t lost the accent, but that’s kind of become part of how people know me,” she said in an interview. Her upbringing instilled in Titus a strong interest in politics. She recalls listening to local politicians talk shop at her grandfather’s Greek restaurant across from the courthouse. Her father ran for city council, and her Republican “black sheep” uncle, as she puts it, served in the Georgia Legislature.
Titus attended the College of William and Mary, where she majored in political science; she later obtained a master’s degree from the University of Georgia and a doctorate from Florida State University. After a stint teaching at the University of North Texas, she moved to the Silver State in 1977 to join the staff of the University of Nevada (Las Vegas). Titus has authored two nonfiction books, Bombs in the Backyard: Atomic Testing and Politics, and Battle Born: Federal-State Relations in Nevada During the Twentieth Century. In 1988, Titus decided to put her political knowledge to use and was elected to the Nevada Senate, where she served as minority leader from 1993 to 2008. A 2006 run for governor ended in a loss to former Rep. Jim Gibbons, a Republican.
Titus became an advocate for people with disabilities and was recognized for her work when an affordable-housing complex in Las Vegas was named after her. Titus said she wants to represent a group that, until recently, wasn’t politically active. “They deserve a voice that they haven’t had in the past, and I’d like to be that voice,” she said.
In 2008, Titus ran successfully for the House, defeating Republican incumbent Jon Porter. But her first tour of duty in Congress was short-lived. She was swept out of office by the tea party wave in 2010, losing a bruising battle to Heck by 1,748 votes out of more than 314,000 cast.
This year, Titus ran in the new 1st District, which has a 2-1 Democratic edge in voter registration over the Republicans. Democratic state Sen. Ruben Kihuen also got in the race but withdrew in February 2012 after Titus significantly outraised him. In the general election, she was a heavy favorite against Republican Chris Edwards, a naval officer making his first foray into politics. Abortion-rights groups NARAL, Pro-Choice America PAC, and EMILY’s List endorsed Titus while she largely avoided engaging Edwards.
In her spare time, Titus spends her weekend afternoons at matinees with her sister and mother. The movie theater is also an ideal place to bump into voters and constituents. “I never hesitate to shake hands while I’m in the popcorn line,” she said.