To win, he’ll need to persuade voters to unseat Republican Rep. Joe Heck in what may be the closest race in the state.
Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District is 38.7 percent Republican and 38.6 percent Democratic, according to voter registration data released Friday. The district also includes nearly 49,000 nonpartisan voters.
In contrast, Democrats had a 26,000-voter advantage in 2010, when incumbent U.S. Rep. Dina Titus lost the seat to Heck, a former state senator. He edged by her with 1,748 votes, a 1 percent difference.
Oceguera is hoping to avoid Titus’ missteps. He said the political climate this year will be different than in 2010, when the unemployment rate was much higher nationally and statewide and Tea Party groups triumphed against Democratic incumbents nationwide.
“I’m just a different candidate,” Oceguera added.
The contest won’t be an easy run for either campaign. The district’s demographics have changed since it was redrawn late last year as required by federal law to accommodate Nevada’s growing population, and the new landscape is more favorable to Heck than it was in 2010. But as an incumbent, Heck is now playing defense. Oceguera, with his longtime government credentials, also won’t be able to run as a political outsider.
“It’s going to be a tough race for sure,” Oceguera told The Associated Press.
The outside partisan forces that colored the 2010 contest will likely remain a factor this year. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is already running ads in Las Vegas to help Heck retain his seat. Heck was elected with the help of pro-business and tea party groups and they are expected to again support his candidacy.
Meanwhile, Oceguera, has been singled out as an important candidate by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which wants to help Democratic candidates regain the majority in the House. Titus and other Democratic leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, are helping Oceguera raise money and bad mouth Heck. Titus had similar support in 2010.
Oceguera said he is working with Titus to identify Heck’s weaknesses. Titus opted against challenging Heck this year, but is expected to win a largely Democratic district in Las Vegas in November and return to Congress next year.
“The campaign has definitely shared our research from ‘09 and ‘10 with the Oceguera campaign,” said Jay Gertsema, Titus’ campaign manager.
Oceguera’s ideological views are similar to the ones Titus highlighted on the campaign trail in 2010, but he doesn’t have the baggage of an incumbent, as she did. Still, it’s unclear how Oceguera will appeal to voters who turned down Titus’ Democratic positions two years ago.
Oceguera supports using federal tax dollars to train unemployed workers and creating new jobs by investing in the nation’s infrastructure. He is also defending the federal health care law passed in 2010 that Republicans want to overthrow. He said he would not support a GOP-backed measure that would allow employers with moral objections to opt out of parts of the law.
Oceguera is hoping to persuade voters that Heck is “out of touch” on the issues most important to them. In recent days, Oceguera used the phrase to describe Heck’s positions on housing and health care.
He’s also bashed Heck for calling Social Security a “pyramid scheme” during a town hall last year. Heck later said he misspoke.
Most recently, some 20 senior citizens gathered at a health care roundtable Sunday in Henderson with Oceguera and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn from South Carolina, who serves as the House assistant minority leader. The largely Democratic voters railed about inadequate health care benefits as Oceguera listened and nodded.
“Social Security and Medicare are promises each generation makes to the next, and rather than keeping those promises to Nevadans, Joe Heck has outrageously called Social Security a pyramid scheme and wants to cripple Medicare,” said Oceguera.
Heck has said he opposes the federal health care law and has called for less government spending. He was not made available for an interview Monday.
Democratic consultant Dan Hart in Las Vegas said how the two parties handle their top of the ballot campaigns in November could matter more than where Heck and Oceguera stand on the issues. President Barack Obama will face the eventual GOP nominee, while Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller is fighting to protect his seat against Democratic U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley of Las Vegas.
“The outcome of that race is going to be dramatically affected by the get-out-the-vote efforts of the national and statewide campaigns,” Hart said.
Republican leaders are counting on Heck to survive the fight, but are prepared for a razor-thin contest.
“He is representing his district well and I am comfortable that he will win,” said James Smack, acting chairman of the state GOP. “But it will be close. John Oceguera has some deep pockets, he has been in the state for a long time, so he’s going to give Joe a run for his money.”