Derby isn't just a cowgirl, though. After college, she travelled extensively in North Africa, India, Asia, and the Middle East. She lived in Saudi Arabia, trekked the Himalayas, and visited the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat in the jungles of Cambodia. Her travels inspired her to earn masters and doctoral degrees at the University of California, Davis in cultural anthropology with an emphasis on Middle Eastern studies. She has served as Regent for the University and Community College System of Nevada since 1988.
So a great resume, but in a district that hasn't elected a Democrat in 25 years, what puts this race in play? Republican infighting and ineptness. It was a vicious three way race in the primary with the Club for Growth heavily funding their wingnut puppet Sharon Angle. They ran ads accusing her opponents of being "liberals." Gasp. Secretary of State Dean Heller pulled out a narrow victory and then Angle tried, but failed, to contest it with a court challenge and State GOP Chairman Paul Adams took Angle's side.
UNR political scientist Eric Herzik said the intraparty fight puts the 2nd Congressional District - usually reliably Republican - into play. "Jill Derby was already doing everything right, and then she gets this gift," he said. "How do you turn a safe district into a competitive one? Fight among yourselves. Republicans here have won because they've stayed united and they continue to turn out. Now you've got partisan infighting, and Adams' leadership is aiding and abetting that - in an already bad year for Republicans."
There's also just a little bit of a question about the character of her opponent, Dean Heller and one of his close associates:
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - A national Democratic Party group is raising questions about Republican congressional candidate Dean Heller's associations with former Reno radio personality Walter "Eddie" Floyd, who's accused of growing and selling marijuana. . . . The DCCC said Heller had "a years-long friendship" with Floyd, was on Floyd's weekly "Nevada Matters" radio show 170 times over several years, and got a $4,200 contribution from Floyd's wife, Shari, to his congressional campaign. . . . When Floyd was accused of conspiring to grow and sell marijuana, prosecutors said he was a convicted sex offender who failed to register at his last two residences.
Not necessarily the people you want to be associated with in the midst of a GOP sex scandal and meltdown. The question of Heller's ethics is now out there, and bound to help Derby, though she isn't pushing it. And it might not take that much help. A Mason-Dixon poll conducted for the Las Vegas Review-Journal in late September put Jill Derby well within the margin of error: Derby at 42, Heller with 45, with a MoE of 5. This poll was conducted a week before the Foley scandal broke. The Heller campaign was worried enough to bring in Bush last week, netting the campaign some $325K. Derby's fundraising has been competitive; she was in the first wave of DCCC "Red to Blue" candidates. But this late infusion of cash from the Bush visit was a significant boost for Heller.
We've got the makings of a Rubber Stamp Republican (including the possible ethics problems) in Heller, who supports privatizing Social Security and is firmly committed to the "stay the course" policy in Iraq. On this issues, Derby is what you'd expect from a Democrat who has devoted her professional life to public education. She's pro-choice, and emphasizing education, renewable energy, jobs/increasing minimum wage and healthcare in her campaign. While she doesn't support an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, she recognizes that "Staying the course doesn't work. The course has failed." Heck, I'm willing to listen to someone whose PhD is in Middle Eastern studies on this one.
The Democrats have tapped into a very rich vein of gold for these Western House races in very red districts, with fantastic candidates like Derby, Peter Goldmark, Larry Grant, Gary Trauner, and Scott Kleeb. Every dollar that the NRCC has to spend in these supposedly safe Republican districts is a dollar they aren't spending in the races that were competitive all along. Every dollar they have to spend in Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming and Nebraska is a sign that the Republican stranglehold on the West is slipping. It won't be broken this cycle, at least not entirely, but we're loosening it.
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(H/T jedinecny and KLM)