Why Democrats Aren't Interested in Joe Heck's House Seat

It's a quintessential swing district and Heck might not run for reelection, but all the big names are flocking to a congressional district on the other side of town.

As House Democrats look to recover and pick up seats in 2016, Nevada could offer multiple opportunities. Unless, that is, all of the party's most touted candidates pile into the same district.

If Republican Rep. Joe Heck runs for Senate, he would leave open a swing district that, by the numbers, could be one of Democrats' best opportunities to gain a House seat. But there's been little talk about his district, thanks to a nearby congressional race that might be even more enticing. That leaves Nevada Democrats in an odd position: too many candidates in one competitive district and none in the other—and all in the same metro area.

Clark County Democratic chairman Chris Miller said local party members aren't talking much about Heck's seat. "Actually, no," Miller said. "There's been way more interest in the 4th District, which [former Rep. Steven] Horsford lost in 2014. That seems to be where the action is. There's not a lot of interest in the 3rd."

Three of Nevada's strongest available Democratic candidates have announced they'll run in that 4th District. Nonprofit executive Susie Lee said Democrats asked her to run for Heck's seat, but she is set on challenging freshman Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy, who beat Horsford last year in a major upset. State Sen. Ruben Kihuen doesn't live in either district but is already running to oppose Hardy, according to consultant Andres Ramirez. Former state Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, another declared candidate, did not respond to requests for comment, but Democratic consultant Jon Reinish said he had not heard anything about her looking to jump out of the race in Hardy's district.

And former state House Speaker John Oceguera, who lost to Heck in 2012 and later moved to Hardy's district, said he will likely decide to run for the 4th District in 2016—but definitely not for Heck's seat.

Heck still has not announced his 2016 intentions, but Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston has written that Heck is "almost there" on a Senate bid that he had once ruled out. And with the resilient Heck out of the House picture, his district could be as friendly to Democrats as it appears to be on paper. It's an evenly divided district that President Obama won by less than 1 point in 2012, but Heck has proven tough to beat, winning reelection by seven points in 2012 and by 25 points in 2014.

Hardy's district, however, voted for the president at a 54 percent clip in 2012. That extra Democratic lean may explain the dearth of Democratic candidates next door.

"The 4th District obviously has a higher Democratic registration advantage," Miller said. "I think that is what is driving people to it, and the fact that we all think Cresent Hardy is beatable."

Of course, if Heck moves on from the House, Republicans would start the battleground race from scratch, too. Like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee declined to comment about potential candidates. State Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson is seen as the presumptive Republican nominee if the seat is available, Ramirez said.

In fact, Roberson is seen as a strong enough candidate that his potential candidacy could be another factor scaring Democrats away from Heck's district, said Democratic consultant Dan Hart.

"He is a very skilled political candidate and operator," Hart said.

Then again, it's also possible that Roberson is the Republican who will run for Senate in the end. Until Heck and Roberson make their moves, Democrats are getting ready for a noisy intra-party battle in the 4th District while the 3rd sits silent.