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Primary palooza: Top Dems face some big decisions

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nevada, and County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, along with fellow progressive activists, spoke out about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s visit to Nevada to re-evaluate the Obama-era designation of two national monuments that span hundreds of thousands of Nevada acres. (Jeff Gillan | KSNV)

Monday morning and Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nevada, and County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani were among friends: fellow progressive activists who were speaking out about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s visit to Nevada to re-evaluate the Obama-era designation of two national monuments that span hundreds of thousands of Nevada acres.

The reevaluation was “absurd,” said Titus; “let your hands off our monuments,” said Giunchigliani. It was just what this audience wanted to hear, from two of Nevada’s most well-known Democrats.

And both have some big decisions to make. For Titus, will it be taking on Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada, for the right to face Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, in 2018? For Giunchigliani, will she move forward to challenge her commission colleague, Democrat Steve Sisolak, to run for Governor?

Titus, a former Nevada State Senator, would leave a relatively safe House seat to challenge Rosen, former Sen. Harry Reid’s pick, who has also received the backing of the other Democrats in Nevada’s Washington delegation.

“Nice to be home, talk to some folks, look at it seriously,” Titus told me after the event. “I know now it’s not going to be a political decision. It’s going to be more of a personal decision.”

The backdrop to her decision is optimism, in some quarters, that Democrats could recapture the House in 2018, given the Republican dysfunction, helped by a tweeting President.

“Some of those swing seats and the polling in those districts show that it’s a good chance that we can take it back,” Titus says, adding, “as it looks more and more like the Democrats are going to take back the House, might want to stay there and have some seniority and the more clout than just being a freshman for six years again,” referring to a first-term in the Senate.

If Titus jumps in, she would face-off against Rosen, and it wouldn’t be the first time she went up against a candidate Reid preferred. In 2006, she battled and won against then-Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson, beating Gibson for the right to face Republican Jim Gibbons for governor, a race Titus lost.

Last week, the Titus camp released polling data that said Heller was vulnerable and Titus could beat him.

Titus has said she’ll make a decision soon.

Referring to Heller, Titus told me, “I’ll do all I can to beat him, either as his opponent or helping someone else,” she said.

Two other Democrats have also announced a run for Senate: Henderson lawyer Jesse Sbaih and retired fire captain Jay Craddock.

If Giunchigliani jumps in for governor, it would set up a contest between two term-limited and high-profile Democratic county commissioners hoping to succeed the also term-limited Brian Sandoval.

“I’m not running against anybody. If I run, I run in order to represent Nevadans because I need to make sure we have a Nevada that works for everybody,” Giunchigliani told me, who just finished what she called a “listening tour” of Northern Nevada.

A former assemblywoman, Giunchigliani also recently sent handwritten notes to all 63 lawmakers in the state legislature, an indication of outreach and interest. The notes were first reported by the Nevada Independent.

Giunchigliani tells me she’ll make a decision this coming fall.

“If anybody wants to run, I would never talk them out of the race,” she says, “but they better understand that I am an assertive, aggressive monster at running for office.”

If she jumps in, she’ll be up against a fellow Democrat with an almost $4 million dollar war chest. Steve Sisolak, who announced in June, tells me he’s running the race he wants, regardless of what Giunchigliani does.

“How she impacts – runs her race – isn’t going to impact us,” Sisolak says. “The primary would be almost a year away – a lot of time can happen between now-and-then."

“I think we’re going to see some primaries, and some of them will be very bruising,” says UNLV Associate Professor of History Michael Green, alluding to the peril that primaries pose.

“Primaries are bruising,” Green says. “Will the black-and-blue marks go away by the general election?”

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