Jill Derby, the chairwoman of Nevada's Democratic Party who lost a congressional bid against Republican U.S. Rep. Dean Heller in 2006, said Wednesday she's considering seeking the seat again this fall.
Derby said heavy Democratic turnout during Nevada's presidential caucuses this month is fueling optimism that a Democrat could win the seat that has been held only by Republicans since the largely rural 2nd congressional district was created in 1980.
"I'm certainly in some conversations about it," said Derby, who lost to Heller last time 50 percent to 46 percent.
"People have been talking to me, sort of looking at the energy and just the turnout that happened and the way that changes the district," she said on "Nevada News Makers."
A record 117,600 voters participated in the Nevada Democrats' caucuses on Jan. 19 - about one-third of all the active registered Democrats in the state. The massive turnout surprised party officials who had been hoping for a 10 percent turnout.
"Look at the turnout, look at the enthusiasm, look at the interest in the Nevada caucus and the kind of new energy there is," said Derby, a former member of the state Board of Regents who grew up in rural Nevada near Lovelock.
Heller, the former secretary of state who won a hotly contested three-way GOP primary, is serving his first term in Congress.
Derby said his Democratic challenger this fall will benefit from the party's unprecedented organizational effort in the caucuses - "down to the precinct level."
"That's 1,750 precincts all over Nevada, identifying leadership, training leadership. It's a whole new network of activists that we've never had before," she said.
Derby also pointed to Democratic Sen. Barack Obama's unexpectedly strong support in rural parts of the district in the caucuses.
While Sen. Hillary Clinton won 51 percent of the Nevada vote to Obama's 45 percent, Obama carried 11 of Nevada's 17 counties. He
won by a 2-to-1 margin in Elko County and took Washoe County 49 percent to 40 percent.
"I think it's a whole new day in Nevada," Derby said. "I think what it says is, it's a district that can be in play. And it was close last time. It was competitive last time."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)