LAS VEGAS -- Dr. Joe Heck projects a quiet, earnest confidence about his chances in his very close election battle against freshman Congressional Democrat Rep. Dina Titus. “We’re going to win this race, but will be a very hard-fought victory,” Heck tells me. “Las Vegas has become famous for Mixed Martial Arts and UFC fighting, and this race is a cage match.” Nevada’s Third Congressional District is the most populous in the nation and will help shape not only the balance of power in the US House of Representatives, but also the outcome of the state’s marquee 2010 Senate race. If this royal rumble in the desert hinges a central theme, Heck argues, it should be what he calls the principle of “action vs. theory.” It’s a compelling piece of framing because through Heck’s preferred prism, the campaign is no contest.
On one end of the spectrum, voters encounter Congresswoman Dina Titus. Titus served in the Nevada State Senate for two decades, ran unsuccessfully for Governor in 2006, and rode the winds of change to her US House seat in 2008—despite underperforming Barack Obama in the district by seven points. She’s also a longtime political science professor at UNLV. At the other end is Joe Heck, an emergency room doctor, a 20-year Army Reservist who’s served three tours of duty and currently holds the rank of Colonel, and the owner of a homeland security consulting firm.
“My opponent lectures college students about political theory. I understand how things really work,” Heck says. “Take healthcare, for example. Four out of ten people I care for in the ER are uninsured. I know what works and what doesn’t in our healthcare system because I live it.” On the issue of Obamacare, Heck sides with the 56 percent of district voters who favor repealing the new legislation. “We’ve got to repeal, repair, and replace it,” Heck says, before reciting a thorough laundry list of flaws buried within the new law. “I actually read the bill,” he remarks with a wry smile – a clear slap at Titus, who voted in favor of the law in March.
One of the unusual dynamics of this race is Heck’s refusal to give up working full time while campaigning. Throughout his primary race and most of the general election, Heck has maintained a daily 5:30 am conference call with fellow Army Reservists, and has continued his duties both as a physician and a consultant. He says his decision was borne more of necessity than personal preference. “The main reason I’ve kept working is pretty simple. I need to work,” he says. “I don’t want my home to go into foreclosure. I have bills to pay, and I have people counting on me to fulfill my obligations.” Only in October has Heck “significantly ramped down” his daily routine to focus on the race.