- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

Democratic leaders, gathered in Las Vegas this weekend for their summer meeting, are showcasing Dario Herrera, their 29-year-old candidate for the state's newly drawn U.S. House seat.

Mr. Herrera, who is the chairman of the Clark County Commission, delivered Democrats' response to President Bush's most-recent Saturday radio address a plum assignment that's unusual for someone who doesn't hold national or statewide office.

But Republicans say it's a bad time to highlight Mr. Herrera, who is coming off a bad July in which a police group withdrew its endorsement of him and an independent poll taken for a newspaper shows him trailing Republican John Porter by 16 points.

"You have a situation where in August of 2001 it was a 2-point race; now it's a 16-point race just on the basis of the damage Dario Herrera's done himself this is a candidate that's rapidly fading," says Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the organization charged with electing Republicans to the House.

The mid-July Mason-Dixon poll for the Las Vegas Review-Journal found 44 percent supported Mr. Porter, 28 percent supported Mr. Herrera, 24 percent were undecided and the rest supported other candidates.

Democrats, though, say the race has a long way to go.

"This is going to be a very hotly contested, contentious campaign, and I don't know that either side can claim an advantage 4½ months away from the election," said Mark Nevins, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Nevada gained a third House seat thanks to its rapid population growth in the past decade. The new seat was drawn in southern Clark County, below Las Vegas, where both Mr. Herrera and Mr. Porter, whose state Senate district matched the new congressional district, are well-known for nonincumbents.

The district also boasts nearly equal registration of Democrats and Republicans, and a significant Hispanic population, so both parties view it as a critical win for their hopes of controlling the House and as an indication of future success in the region.

Both Mr. Porter and Mr. Herrera face Sept. 3 primaries, but are expected to win.

Mr. Herrera leads Mr. Porter slightly in the fund-raising race in what is one of the most expensive nonincumbent matchups in the nation. The most recent reports, filed July 15, show Mr. Herrera has raised $1.3 million and had $822,222 available, while Mr. Porter has raised $1.2 million and had $803,759 in cash on hand.

But Mr. Herrera has suffered from a series of bad headlines stemming from questions over conflict of interest in votes he cast on the County Commission and over a 1999 loan he and his wife obtained from a man convicted of felony bribery in 1970.

The latter of those caused the Nevada Conference of Police and Sheriffs to withdraw its endorsement of him, issued last year. Mr. Herrera did win the endorsement of the Nevada Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1 at the end of the month.

For their part, Democrats say Mr. Porter has remained unengaged in the campaign, and they expect to close the gap in the polls when the race shifts away from Mr. Herrera's problems and to issues.

The federal government's plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain is very unpopular in Nevada, and both men have tried to claim the lead in fighting the project, though Mr. Herrera charges that Mr. Porter has taken campaign donations from those who back using Yucca Mountain.

Mr. Herrera mentioned the Yucca controversy in his radio response Saturday, and called the Bush administration's environmental record "one of repeated broken promises."

"Republicans in Congress have had their opportunity to lead, and they have failed," he said. "Time and time again, on issue after issue, they side with the powerful special interests, while Democrats fight to secure America's future for all our families."

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