HENDERSON " Dina Titus, a political science professor, longtime Democratic lawmaker and failed candidate for governor, on Thursday jumped into the race for Nevada's 3rd Congressional District, a target for Democrats hoping to pick up seats in Congress.
The state senator immediately set out to portray her Republican incumbent as a politician in lock step with the Bush administration policies.
"Jon Porter, let me tell you, you've been carrying George Bush's baggage for too long now," Titus told a crowd of roughly 250 supporters, including many of southern Nevada's political figures.
The seat has been coveted by Democrats since its creation in 2001 and is on a short list of potential swing districts expected to draw national attention and dollars in November.
Democrats also see the race as an opportunity to knock out a possible future rival to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. GOP leaders have urged Porter to run against the Nevada senator in 2010.
Titus announced her plans as Democrats moved quickly to fill a spot vacated when the party's top candidate dropped out of the race this week. Another candidate, Democrat Andrew Martin, dropped out Thursday and announced his support for Titus.
Until Monday, former Clark County prosecutor Robert Daskas was the national and state parties' top pick to challenge three-term Porter in the suburban Las Vegas district.
Daskas cited unspecified "family considerations" in abandoning his campaign Monday. However, Daskas' fundraising had lagged. Porter had more than $1 million cash on-hand at the end of the first quarter of the year while Daskas had about $450,000. Daskas had never sought elected office before entering the race in September.
Voter registration numbers look promising for Democrats. The district, which includes parts of Las Vegas, Henderson and Boulder City, has historically had nearly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, but a massive Democratic voter registration push has shifted the balance.
Since November 2006, when first-time candidate Tessa Hafen lost to Porter by just 3,900 votes, Democrats have added more than 14,000 more voters to their ranks, bringing the total to nearly 167,000. Republicans' tally has dropped by 4,000 to 145,500.
Porter defeated Hafen, then a 30-year-old former Reid aide, by playing up her youth and inexperience.
He'll be forced to take a new line of attack against Titus. At 57, she's been a political fixture in Nevada for decades.
As minority leader in the Senate since 1993, Titus has advocated moderated growth in southern Nevada, conservation and, during the housing boom, property tax freezes.
She's known for delivering quick, candid quips in a Georgia twang that hasn't disappeared in the more than 20 years since she moved out of her home state.
Titus teaches political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and is an expert on the federal government's atomic testing in the Nevada desert.
On Thursday, she worked to guard herself against another criticism Porter has successfully lodged at opponents in the past: carpetbagging. Titus lives just outside the district boundaries, but noted she owns a home and a condominium in the district and represents portions of the district in the state senate.
"I know this district. I love the people in this district. I am at home in this district, Jon Porter, I am at home," Titus said.
Titus previously was courted to run for the seat but turned down the chance, in part, she said Thursday, because she was bruised by the her failed bid for governor in 2006.
As the Democrats' pick for the open seat, Titus was beaten by Republican Rep. Jim Gibbons of Reno. The defeat was particularly bruising given the heavy cloud of scandal that engulfed Gibbons in the final stretch of the race.
Accused of illegally hiring a Peruvian housekeeper, accepting gifts and bribes from a military contractor and assaulting a cocktail waitress, Gibbons won the race by 4 percentage points on the strength of his support in rural counties. The allegations did not result in any charges.
Titus said Thursday the failed bid may even help her chances with voters in November.
"I think there's buyer's remorse out there about the person who won the governor's race," she said.
Her bid for governor did yield a large and active network of Titus supporters and boost her name recognition and fundraising list. She said she was not concerned about catching up to Porter's significant financial advantage.
Asked to comment on Titus entering the race, Porter's office issued a statement saying "there are substantial ideological differences between the two that will provide voters with a clear choice in November. The Congressman looks forward to a spirited debate on the issues that matter most to Nevadans."