State Sen. Ruben Kihuen, facing an uphill primary fight against former Congresswoman Dina Titus, announced via Twitter this afternoon that he was getting out of the race for the 1st Congressional District.
“I am announcing my withdrawal from the race for #NV01. Thank you to all my supporters, you have been outstanding,” Kihuen wrote, with a link to a longer statement.
Kihuen’s decision averts a nasty primary fight that, had Kihuen lost the race, some Democrats fear would have depressed Hispanic turnout in the 1st District and potentially affected other races, including Shelley Berkley‘s U.S. Senate bid and even the re-election of President Barack Obama.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who had remained neutral in the race but was widely believed to be supportive of Kihuen, put out a statement almost immediately in which he praised Kihuen and endorsed Titus for the seat.
“Senator Kihuen remains a rising star in Nevada and the Democratic Party. Each day, he breaks new barriers and inspires tens of thousands of young people with his hard work on behalf of this state and his commitment to helping all Nevadans achieve a better life for themselves and their families. I am fortunate to call him my friend and expect great things from him in the very near future.
“With TEA Party Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, Nevada’s middle-class families need Dina Titus in their corner fighting to protect Medicare and Social Security, create good paying jobs that can’t be shipped overseas and holding Wall Street bankers and Big Oil executives accountable. I am proud to endorse her bid for Congress and look forward to working with her to put Nevadans back to work.”
(“Each day” he breaks new barriers? I’ll have to pay closer attention to his Twitter feed from now on!)
Several former Reid staffers went to work for Kihuen, whom Reid invited to attend the State of the Union this year as his guest. And attacks on Titus — which claimed she was too conservative, hurtful in the 1st District but helpful had she decided to switch to the more conservative 3rd Congressional District — had Reid’s barely perceptible signature on them.
But the pressure was growing on Kihuen: Polls showed Titus well ahead, and she was able to raise much more money for the contest than he did. Titus would no doubt have highlighted the relative paucity of Kihuen’s record, compared to her decades-long resume. And a decisive defeat in the district — among Democrats — could have hurt Kihuen, whose career has been on a steep trajectory up until this point.
Moreover, Titus was all-in: She quit her longtime job at UNLV and her position on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Had she lost the contest to Kihuen, she would likely have been finished in politics for good. Kihuen, on the other hand, is in the middle of his first state Senate term, and will return to Carson City next year. The psychological advantage was definitely Titus’s.
Although the race had divided Democrats, including longtime allies, Nevada Democratic Party Chairwoman Roberta Lange issued a statement endorsing Titus quickly.
“Senator Ruben Kihuen is an outstanding public servant with a very bright future in Nevada politics. He will continue to be a strong fighter in the Nevada State Senate to create jobs and improve Nevada’s education system. I congratulate Senator Kihuen on the race he ran and look forward to working with him in the future.
“Nevada Democrats are united behind Dina Titus and we look forward to sending her back to Congress to fight for Nevada families. Dina has been a longtime advocate for Nevada’s middle-class families — committed to fighting the Wall Street Republican agenda of killing Medicare by turning it over to private insurance companies and protecting taxpayer giveaways to corporations that ship American jobs overseas. Nevada Democrats could not have a stronger ticket this election cycle in which we will re-elect President Obama, send Shelley Berkley to the Senate, and take back a majority of our congressional delegation.”
Now the only question remains: What will Hispanics do? They won’t suffer the indignity of seeing a favorite son lose to Titus in a tough race, but they will also lose an inspiring ballot magnet whom one Hispanic leader called “our American dream”? Will turnout be affected by the fact that everyone still knows Kihuen was essentially scared off the ballot by the prospect of a race against Titus?
Then again, Kihuen lives to fight another day. Although it appears Democrats will occupy the congressional seats around his neighborhood (Steven Horsford in the 4th Congressional District and Titus in the 1st), there are still many prospects for him in 2014. He could run for re-election to his Senate district; he could try for statewide office (lieutenant governor) or he could bide his time until a federal office comes open. Hey, isn’t Reid up again in 2016? If Kihuen gets re-elected in 2014, he’d have another safe shot at that seat, assuming there isn’t a bigger fish circling.
UPDATE: Titus released a statement this evening about Kihuen’s exit from the race. It said:
“Senator Kihuen is a dedicated public servant who has always put the interests of Nevada first. He ran a strong campaign that inspired young people to work for the good of our state. Now is the time to come together to reelect President Obama and elect Shelley Berkley, John Oceguera, Steven Horsford, and all Democrats running for office. Ruben is a rising star who has a bright career ahead of him fighting for Nevadans. I look forward to working with him to create jobs, advocate for minority interests, and diversify Nevada’s economy.”
Of course, the “dedicated public servant” language doesn’t exactly comport with the picture Team Titus sought to portray about Kihuen just a short while ago, that of a state senator with no real accomplishments, who chaired a relatively meaningless committee during the 2011 session and who didn’t introduce a single bill in that Legislature. But what else was Titus to say? That Kihuen was overly ambitious and she would have mopped the floor with him? That would simply be rude!