The four U.S. House districts up for grabs have not been created, because the once-in-a-decade process that creates voter districts is tied up in court and could be delayed through next year. Those new voter maps will determine how Republican and Democratic voters will be divided or combined across the state and whether or not the incumbents will face a tough re-election.
The lingering uncertainty means the candidates don’t know who they would represent if elected or which voters they need to woo. It also has put political action groups on the sidelines as they wait to see how the races will shape up.
At least six hopefuls are pursuing a seat in the U.S. House in the 2012 election, including incumbent Republican Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei. Their potential challengers include a swath of Democrats, including former Rep. Dina Titus, state Sen. Ruben Kihuen, state Sen. John Lee and state Assembly Speaker John Oceguera. Former Republican Assemblywoman Sharron Angle and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford are also expected to make a House run next year.
Oceguera triggered the early campaign season by announcing his intentions in mid-July. The others followed, setting up campaign staffs, developing talking points, brainstorming potential strategies and cozying up to donors — all done on the assumption that once the districts are drawn, they will be able to chart a path to victory.
“The candidates are eager to get on with their campaigns,” said Danny Thompson, executive secretary treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO. “These things are not easy, and they are expensive and they are difficult to put together. So they can’t wait.”
The abundance of Democratic challengers means some same-party candidates will likely face off in a primary only a few months after the voter district maps become official.
Lee stopped in Washington, D.C., earlier this month to meet with Democratic strategists and lawmakers. Back in Nevada, he has visited with union leaders and local Democratic clubs.
Oceguera is hosting a fundraiser Thursday night at the home of Las Vegas lobbyist John Pappageorge. He recently announced that he was leaving his job as North Las Vegas assistant fire chief to focus on the campaign.
Titus has been on a campaign whirl, stopping in recent weeks by a Greek festival, education rally, cancer walk, soup kitchen fundraiser, Democratic women’s club and Hispanic and gay parades. She recently announced that she was depending on her longtime campaign team to help her reclaim her House title next year. She lost her seat to Heck in November.
Heck has spent his time in Nevada reaching out to constituents at senior centers, the Latin Chamber of Commerce and veterans events. He held a press conference Monday on the Las Vegas Strip with gambling and local government leaders to herald a bill he was sponsoring to streamline tourist visas. His district-wide tour was to continue Wednesday night with a Las Vegas town hall.
Kihuen, meanwhile, has attended Hispanic events in Washington and Las Vegas and rubbed elbows with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, his longtime mentor, at a chamber of commerce lunch. He hopes to become Nevada’s first Hispanic elected to Congress. Mariachi singers, Chinese dragon performers and break-dancers kicked off his campaign launch party Tuesday night at a Las Vegas high school.
“Are you ready to win this election?” Kihuen asked the largely Hispanic crowd in Spanish. He later asked his supporters to contribute what they could, as teenagers passed around donation baskets full of dollar bills.
The deadline to submit federal fundraising reports is Friday, and the results will indicate which candidates have the most viability. Democratic consultant Ryann Juden said some donors are declining to open their wallets until the districts are drawn.
“No doubt the (unknown) district lines make it difficult to raise money,” said Juden, who is working with Lee’s campaign. “When that’s given as an excuse to the campaigns, it’s not like we can argue with the logic of it.”
House candidates don’t have to live in the district they hope to represent and some of Nevada’s candidates have already indicated that they won’t be limited by their zip codes. Kihuen, for example, wants to continue to represent the same Hispanic voters that sent him to Carson City. He is expected to run in the district that includes the most Hispanic voters.
Heck, on the other hand, said his home address will define his re-election bid.
“I’m going to run whenever I get drawn,” Heck told The Associated Press. “Wherever my house is, that’s where I’ll run.”
Las Vegas Democratic consultant Dan Hart said candidates who are waiting for the districts to be drawn before revealing their Washington ambitions will have less time to raise cash or their profiles. A strong early showing can also scare off rivals, Hart said.
“All of them want to be the most prepared or the most advanced campaign on the block so that others don’t run against them,” he said.
The candidates have started courting endorsements, but few supporters are eager to commit to a candidate without a clear election plan. Thompson, of the AFL-CIO, said the union has had to delay its endorsement process because next year’s voter maps remain unknown. Traditionally, unions like to endorse candidates early on to discourage unwanted competitors.
“We’ve talked to a lot of those people who say they are running,” Thompson said. “The difficulty in these congressional districts is that no one knows what the district is, so until we know what those lines are nobody knows who or what.”
Voters are the ones who stand to lose the most if the redistricting process isn’t quickly resolved, Thompson said.
“You are taking away time from the people to understand where these candidates stand, and that’s not good for anybody,” he said. “Clearly, the sooner these decisions are made, the better it will be for everyone.”