- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 7, 2002

The contest for Nevada's newly created 3rd Congressional District is gaining the sort of attention and fund raising usually reserved for critical Senate races in their closing days.
The district spreads out to the south of Las Vegas, and both parties have recruited premier candidates: Democrat Dario Herrera, Clark County Commission chairman, who will be in Washington this week for a fundraiser with Democratic leaders, and Republican Jon Porter, a state senator from the area.
With Democrats needing to net just a half-dozen seats to control the House, every open seat is critical but this district is at the confluence of several key political elements.
Both candidates start from the same position because the district was drawn after Nevada earned an extra seat in the 2000 census. It is a bellwether for the Southwestern states, which are growing rapidly, and features a Hispanic candidate, Mr. Herrera, at a time when both parties are fighting to garner Hispanic voters.
But the big unknown is the fallout from Yucca Mountain the site 90 miles from Las Vegas where the Bush administration wants to store the nation's nuclear waste. The state's Republican governor will veto the plan soon, and the issue will play out this summer in Congress, which will have the final say.
Most state residents, especially those in and around Las Vegas, oppose the project, and Democrats are hoping voters will connect the issue to the Republican administration and to Republicans in general in November.
"If you're voting on this issue and people in Nevada's [3rd District] are voting on that issue there's no question that Republicans are in a world of hurt," said Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Still, both congressional candidates, as well as the rest of the state's leadership oppose the project on a bipartisan basis. At this point, the two campaigns are competing over which candidate has done more to help the campaign to block the Yucca Mountain plan.
Republicans say Mr. Porter has been opposed to the project for two decades, and they hope that's what will matter to voters, rather than President Bush's position. So far, their poll numbers offer them encouraging news.
A survey by Public Opinion Strategies for the Nevada Republican Party, released last week, shows Mr. Porter leading Mr. Herrera, 45 percent to 34 percent. The March 5-6 poll of 400 likely voters in the district has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent. That's a significant change from Public Opinion Strategies' January poll, which showed Mr. Porter with a 39 percent to 37 percent lead.
According to Glen Bolger, the pollster, Mr. Porter took a dip in his favorable ratings after the administration announced it would go forward with the Yucca Mountain project but has since returned to the ratings he enjoyed before the decision.
On the other side, Mr. Herrera has been the subject of frequent stories in the Las Vegas media over potential ethical lapses everything from charges he improperly obtained a consulting contract to failing to recuse himself from a vote on county billboard regulations that could have benefited his wife.
So far, none of the charges has resulted in an official finding of criminal or ethical wrongdoing.
"Republicans have been trying to distract voters from issues important to Nevada families. We're running a great race, and Dario is out there every day," said Elizabeth Alexander, a spokeswoman for Mr. Herrera's campaign. "Dario's leadership is unmatched on Yucca Mountain, Nevada power, helping the workers laid off after September 11 Jon Porter has been absent on those."
Both sides say the race will be tight, mainly because the district was drawn that way. Republicans hold about a 1 percent registration advantage. Republicans in this region also turn out to vote in slightly higher numbers than registered Democrats, said Mike Slanker, a consultant to the Porter campaign.

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