Jacky Rosen just achieved a longtime dream of Nevada Democrats: She unseated longtime Republican Sen. Dean Heller, who has served since 2011.
Rosen, a freshman member of Congress and former synagogue president, rode to victory buoyed by voter concerns about health care and the state Democratic Party’s strong infrastructure. Nevada’s Latino vote has always been a key ingredient of Democratic wins, and organizers worked to turn out voters months before November 6.
Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston once told Vox that Heller was the “Houdini of Nevada politics” because he had never lost a race, but Nevada’s Democratic voters sent a message about Heller’s health care vote and sudden embrace of President Donald Trump. Heller was also in the unfortunate position of being the only Republican senator up for reelection in a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
In 2016, Heller had declined to endorse Trump and condemned some of the president’s rhetoric. This year, he embraced Trump fully in an attempt to appeal to the state’s Republican base.
Health care and immigration were two issues that helped defeat Heller. The senator’s vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act caught him a lot of heat, especially since he rejected an earlier version of the bill and promised not to vote for something that would endanger coverage for people with preexisting conditions.
That doomed his chances with independent voters like Glenn Geiger. The 50-year-old Geiger previously voted for Heller but said he could not do it a second time, given his fears that Senate Republicans would again vote to repeal the ACA and its protections or gut Social Security and Medicare.
“If he had gone up against Trump and voted against the health care bill that got beat by [John] McCain, I would probably vote for Heller again,” Geiger told Vox.
Immigration was another huge issue in the heavily Latino state. Rosen made serious outreach to the Latino community, often vowing to stand up to Trump’s hardline immigration policies. Deportations are increasing in Las Vegas and Nevada as a whole, immigration advocates say. More people are being picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and are at risk of being deported for such minor infractions as unpaid traffic tickets.
“I don’t have to tell anybody that Latinos are on the forefront of the fight,” Rosen said at a September event with Latino voters in Las Vegas. “DREAMers, TPS recipients, families torn apart at the border.”
She had the benefit of having a thinner legislative record than Heller, but political experts in the state feared Rosen’s relative lack of name recognition could be a problem: Republicans could define Rosen before she defined herself. In the end, though, that wasn’t as big a risk as Heller’s voting record.