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Thursday, October 24, 2002
Copyright Las Vegas Review-Journal



Nevada's new 3rd Congressional District seat was created as a battleground for the Democratic and Republican parties, with each side hoping a victory in Las Vegas could help them win control of the House of Representatives.

Congressional reapportionment following the 2000 census rewarded Clark County's explosive population growth with Nevada's third House seat. When the 2001 Legislature drew the boundaries of the 3rd District, it created a district evenly divided between registered Republican and Democratic voters.

The competitiveness of the new district, along with the Republican Party's slim six-seat majority in the House, has made the race between Republican Jon Porter and Democrat Dario Herrera one of a handful considered critical to the balance of power in Congress. Some believe Porter's failed 2000 campaign for the 1st District was a dress rehearsal, and name enhancer, for this year's election.

Herrera, chairman of the Clark County Commission, won early recognition as the Democratic Party's favorite son, chasing off other potential candidates when it became clear that party leadership and U.S. Sen. Harry Reid backed him above all others.

Pete O'Neil entered as an independent and through dogged persistence has garnered free media coverage. He cannot compete with the major-party candidates in fund-raising, and most of his $11,000 are in-kind donations to pay for 40,000 automated telephone calls.

Libertarian Neil Scott and Independent American Richard Odell also filed for the office, giving 3rd District voters five choices in the Nov. 5 election.

Herrera seeks to make it a race about issues, touting Democratic solutions for Social Security, prescription drug coverage for senior citizens and health care. For him, it's about "Nevada families."

Porter says he is the candidate with integrity, but he won't directly respond when asked whether he believes Herrera is unethical.

"I believe he's made decisions I wouldn't have made," he said, citing public relations consulting work Herrera did for the taxpayer-funded Las Vegas Housing Authority.

Porter's ads have challenged Herrera's ethics over the consulting work and Herrera's loss of a major police endorsement. Herrera's ads challenge Porter's job and campaign contributions from the insurance industry and his position on Social Security privatization.

The candidates raised about $1.5 million each, and their parties have spent vast sums on television ads that are even harsher than those of the candidates.

They differ on a number of issues. Porter, who studied theology for three years at Briar Cliff College in Sioux City, Iowa, will vote for Question 2, which will make homosexual marriage unconstitutional in Nevada. Herrera will vote against Question 2 because he believes a state law that already defines marriage as bond between a man and a woman is adequate.

On Social Security, Herrera is adamant that he would never vote to allow people to invest a portion of their retirement account, calling it too risky. Porter said he is opposed to permitting individual retirement investments "at this time" and said that position is the same position he took two years ago. However, in 2000, he supported partial privatization.

Herrera's agenda includes advocacy of a federal school construction bill and adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. To pay for it, he wants to "eliminate unnecessary spending." Herrera, who graduated with honors with a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and has briefly attended two law schools, supports eliminating tax breaks for big corporations.

O'Neil, who attended Glendale Community College in California for two years, has the potential to be a spoiler in the congressional race, pulling enough votes from one of the major candidates to help elect the other. He believes that during his 14 months of campaigning, he has attracted both Democratic and Republican support from people who are disappointed with this year's choices.

O'Neil is gay, and he and his partner are in the process of adopting their three foster children, ages 3 to 7 years old. He plans to vote against Question 2 but for Question 9, which would relax marijuana possession laws.

Unlike Herrera and Porter, who oppose negotiating for benefits in exchange for accepting nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, O'Neil favors making a deal now.

But even if he loses, O'Neil will be able to say he made one change in the system. Because of his protests, the county's government access TV channel began restricting elected officials' appearances on programs if they were running for office.

Scott, who moved to Nevada four years ago, is a first-time candidate and naturalized American originally from Jamaica. "I am disappointed with the government and I think I can do better," he said.

The bank accountant's one issue: Amend the U.S. Constitution to abolish the federal income tax. He has a bachelor's degree in finance from Florida Atlantic University.

Odell, the Independent American candidate, said he is running because he has complained about big government his entire life. "I've never been willing to do anything about it, and it's time to put up or shut up."

Odell attended college for two years and graduated from the Chicago Institute of Applied Sciences, where he learned criminal forensics for his former job in law enforcement. He strongly supports Question 2.

Dario Herrera
Age: 29
Occupation: Clark County Commission chairman

Jon Porter
Age: 47
Occupation: Insurance group district manager

Pete O'Neil
Age: 39
Occupation: Professional Bicycle League commissioner

Neil Scott
Age: 35
Occupation: Accountant


Richard Odell
Independent American
Age: 52
Occupation: Construction executive


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