LAS VEGAS (AP) - Nevada's 2012 hopefuls for the U.S. House are
traveling to the nation's capital to pick up campaign checks,
spending their weekends at community festivals and walking
neighborhoods to reach voters. But they're campaigning for seats
that don't exist yet.
The four U.S. House districts up for grabs next year have not been created, because the once-in-a-decade redistricting 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 leaves political action groups on the sidelines as they wait to see how the races will shape up.
The candidates, however, remain undeterred. 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 and Oceguera seem to be preparing to duel each other, leaving the victor to challenge Heck. Both have alluded to Heck's conservative record in recent months when attacking the GOP.
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.
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.
"Congressional races are very complicated and it requires a significant foundation to build your campaign," he said. "It seems like the person who is more prepared to campaign and has spent more time campaigning has the advantage."
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."