Race for Nevada's new congressional seat gets nasty between Herrera,

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LAS VEGAS -- Competing television commercials make both candidates sound horrible in Nevada's new 3rd Congressional District. Democrat Dario Herrera is portrayed as an unethical opportunist, Republican Jon Porter an anti-Nevada insurance executive.

Neither sounds like a great choice in a key battleground both parties have targeted as priorities nationally. So, what's a voter to do?

"The real question is, are voters going to respond to any of this?" said Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston. "Have they tuned out? If that's the case, I think Herrera is in big trouble."

Herrera, the chairman of the Clark County Commission, claims his ads attack Porter, a former state senator, on the issues while Porter claims he's only responding to Herrera's lies.

Herrera says that's nonsense.

Porter doesn't blame voters for being confused.

"I don't like what's happening in the campaign. I'm disappointed," he said.

"Every spot I'm learning something new about myself," said Porter, a district manager for Farmers Insurance. "He's blamed me for Yucca Mountain. He's blamed me for HMO problems. He's blamed me for rate increases. It's just ludicrous."

But ads sponsored by the National Republican Congressional Committee don't make Herrera sound much better. Herrera is accused of being involved in scandals and as being someone who offers no ideas and no vision "only sham public hearings and lies."

"Voters have a right to be concerned about Porter's campaign tactics," Herrera said. "We really have tried to make this a campaign based on the issues."

On Friday, Herrera announced he would air only positive television ads for the rest of the campaign. Porter responded that it was Herrera who went negative first. "He spent $2 million telling lies about me and now today he's going to stop?"

Porter said he will continue to defend himself against Herrera's "lies."

A poll conducted for the Las Vegas Review-Journal in August showed Porter with an 11-point advantage over Herrera. Recent campaign finance reports show Herrera has raised nearly $1.6 million with Porter close behind at just more than $1.5 million.

Herrera, 29, initially was favored to win the election. He was the Democrats' "golden boy" and, as the son of Cuban immigrants, was expected to help bring in Hispanic voters. He was elected to the state Assembly when he was 23 and to the commission when he was 25.

But his campaign ran into trouble when he voted for regulations benefiting his wife's clients in the billboard industry and faced allegations that he inappropriately received a portion of a public relations contract from the Las Vegas Housing Authority.

Herrera was cleared of the ethics charges and withdrew from the public relations contract.

Porter, a former Boulder City mayor who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2000, stayed in the background while Herrera's ethics trouble took center stage.

Both sides have been bringing big-name politicians to Las Vegas in an effort to sway voters in the district, where Republicans have a 500-voter advantage over Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic whip, are among those who have been in Las Vegas for Herrera.

Porter hosted former President George Bush and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

In the last weeks before the Nov. 5 election, Porter, 47, and Herrera are focusing on getting voters to the polls by campaigning door-to-door.

In the 1st Congressional District, the ads haven't been as nasty in the race between two-term Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley and Republican Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lynette Boggs McDonald.

Boggs McDonald portrays herself as a friend of small business and veterans. She claims Berkley doesn't represent Nevada's values and doesn't support veterans.

Berkley, who recently introduced legislation to build a new veterans hospital in southern Nevada, enlisted popular Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman to stump for her in an ad.

While Boggs McDonald has tried to play up the potential of being the first black Republican woman elected to Congress, she has never been able to match Berkley in the polls or fund-raising.

Berkley has raised $1.7 million to Boggs McDonald's $835,000 and the newspaper poll had Berkley leading Boggs McDonald by 26 percentage points.

In the sprawling 2nd Congressional District, which takes in the Reno area and rural communities throughout Nevada, incumbent Republican Jim Gibbons should easily win re-election to a fourth term. He faces Democrat Travis Souza, a 30-year-old Reno computer technician who entered the race so Gibbons would have an opponent.

Gibbons has raised $391,983 to Souza's $14,518.


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