Little Big Race
Is Nevada's Third District the most important House race in the country?
Heck appeared to make headway with others, too. Sharron McCulley, the woman worried about Angle's position on Social Security, said she was a Democrat but was considering Heck. She liked his focus on tax cuts: "It's the only way we can lure business back here." Katherine Davis, who boasted to the clerk at the 7-Eleven that her 14-year-old daughter had gotten a 100 percent on a geography test, said that Angle's statements about the federal Department of Education terrified her. Still, she'll consider voting for Heck.
If Titus can damage Heck by tying him to Angle, it will upend the conventional wisdom that the economy is more important to voters than anything else. The economy in the Third District is terrible. The Las Vegas unemployment rate is 14.6 percent, slightly above the state figure, which is the highest in the country. Some 70 percent of the district's homeowners are upside down on their mortgages. There have been so many foreclosures in this area it makes it hard to campaign. "You walk through a neighborhood and every third house is either a lock-box or a foreclosure sign," says Heck.
Heck, a physician, Army Reservist, and former state senator, is a precise and disciplined campaigner. He is not trimming his views to win the middle. In a district that is 18 percent Hispanic, he opposes birthright citizenship and supports the Arizona immigration law. He says he will not accept earmarks for the district. He wants to offer a voluntary private account option for Social Security and overhaul Obama's health care legislation. His economic views are standard GOP fare—lower taxes and less regulation create opportunity for job creation. "Please stop trying to help us," he says voters are telling him. "The more you try to help us, the worse I get."
Titus, a one-term incumbent and former political science professor, has voted for all of the federal help. She supported the stimulus bill, health care reform, and cap-and-trade energy legislation. In a state that benefits from federal dollars and needs them badly, those votes aren't all a problem. She makes a strong case for the $2 billion the stimulus bill brought home to the state. But if she's going to survive, it'll be due to her attacks on Heck. So far, she's made a little headway. Heck was ahead, but now the two are statistically even. But if the truth still holds that independent voters break for the challenger in the end, then a tie isn't good enough for Titus. If this is a 7-Eleven-sized election, she won't be coming back to Washington.
John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his series on the presidency and his series on risk. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of U.S. Republican congressional candidate Dr. Joe Heck by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.