RENO, Nev. (AP) - Nevada's incumbent representatives in Congress don't face difficult primary election races June 8, but challenges lie ahead for the newest member of the delegation, Democratic Rep. Dina Titus.
Titus finds herself on the other side of a political tidal wave that put President Barack Obama in the White House and helped her knock off three-term Republican Rep. Jon Porter in 2008 to become the first Democrat ever to represent the suburban Las Vegas 3rd District.
Anger at government and a growing conservative movement nationwide have emboldened Republicans, who hope to win back seats in Congress.
Recent polls show a tight race shaping up in November between Titus and Joe Heck, an emergency room physician and small business owner who is one of four Republicans seeking the nomination.
Capitol Hill publications Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call recently switched their take on the district from "Leans Democratic" to "Tossup."
"This is a swing district so we know it will be a tough fight," Titus said, a former state Senate Democratic leader and UNLV political science professor who lost a bid for governor in 2006.
Heck lost his re-election bid for his state Senate seat to a relatively unknown Democrat in the same electoral storm that swept Titus to victory.
"The wave that came in 2008 is starting to ebb," said Heck, whose campaign reported about $257,000 cash on hand at the end of March, compared with Titus' more than $900,000.
"We're starting to see nonpartisan voters come back to the center-right," said Heck, who has been endorsed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. "Last time they sort of went center-left, but the party has been working to make amends with those voters who were disaffected for whatever reason in '08."
Heck's challengers include Ed Bridges, a tea party activist and insurance agent, and Brad Lord-Leutwyler, a UNLV professor who ran for president as an independent in 2008.
Nevada's other two incumbent House members face only token opposition in their primaries and are heavily favored to win re-election. Early voting begins May 22.
Two-term Republican Rep. Dean Heller, who represents the sprawling, rural 2nd District that covers all of Nevada except the Las Vegas area, was considered vulnerable his last two times out but dispatched Jill Derby each time despite significant backing from Democrats nationally. He's being challenged in the primary by Patrick Colletti, a Reno pediatrician.
Democrats vying for the right to challenge Heller include Ken McKenna, a Reno defense lawyer who said he was energized by Obama's presidential campaign, Nancy Price, a U.S. Air Force veteran and former member of the state Board of Regents, and Sam Dehne, a retired pilot and Reno activist known for playing political songs on his guitar at city council meetings.
Dehne's campaign slogan: "A chicken in every pot, a car in every driveway, enchiladas in every oven and strict handicapped parking enforcement."
McKenna said anti-Obama sentiment is exaggerated and the small faction won't have an impact at the polls.
"I think that the American people's desire for change which was manifest in the 2008 election still exists," said McKenna, who had raised $4,573 compared with Heller's $807,089 through March. He said he's postponing a serious push for cash until after the primary.
Both Heck and Heller are running on platforms to repeal health care reforms that Obama signed into law.
Titus was among the freshmen Democrats in swing districts who had to cast the politically sticky votes needed for the bill to pass the House.
"I think we did the right thing in insuring more people and improving coverage for those who have it," she said.
"People wanted to see change but sometimes the public wants to see it faster than it is possible to get it done, so there is some frustration there," Titus said.
Heck expects health care reform will be a big part of what drives people to vote in November.
"In the 3rd District, it has been my impression that most people were against it, regardless of party affiliation," Heck said. "So it's not so much the bill itself but how Dina failed to represent her constituents."
Titus said she has worked on other issues, including helping Nevadans facing the highest foreclosure rates in the nation, creating jobs and spurring the economy.
"I think the bottom line is that politics is local. In this race, it won't be about Obama. It will be about what I have done for the district," Titus said. She faces a primary challenge from John Beard, a retired small-businessman.
Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, who is in her sixth term representing Las Vegas in the 1st District and has raised more than $1.6 million in her re-election bid, has no opposition in the primary.
Among the eight Republicans hoping to challenge her is Kenneth Wegner, who lost to Berkley 68 percent to 29 percent in 2008, and pulled just 31 percent of the vote in 2006. Craig O. Lake Jr., the owner of a lighting sales business leads potential GOP challengers in fundraising through March with $345,094. Also running is Michele Fiore, the operator of two home health care businesses who was persuaded to join the race by former Nevada governor and current GOP national committeeman Bob List.