No pressure, but the fate of Democratic dreams to win control of the U.S. Senate in November may hinge on one Nevada freshman congresswoman, whose previous experience in public life was as president of her synagogue.
Jacky Rosen, 61, is running a tight race in Nevada, aiming to unseat Republican Dean Heller and provide a necessary flip for Democrats hoping to ride a blue wave to what now seems like the unachievable goal of winning majority in the Senate. As for now, Rosen is proving to be a good choice for Democrats who bet on a relatively unexperienced politician to run one of the closest races in the 2018 cycle. Recent polls, conducted after the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and the bump they appear to have given Republican Senate candidates, have put Rosen 2 percent behind Heller. In previous polls she had a slight advantage over the Republican incumbent, but all results are well within the polling margin of error.
Rosen’s Senate race encapsulates much of what the 2018 midterms are all about: energized Democratic women seeking higher elected positions, a battle to shape swing states, such as Nevada, in which Hillary Clinton won in a thin margin, and the fight against big money taking over politics, in this case that of fellow Nevadan Sheldon Adelson, the Jewish casino magnate who has poured $25 million into preserving the Republican Senate majority, including by helping struggling incumbent Heller.
Much of Rosen’s allure stems from her outsider credentials. Before running for Congress in 2016 she had little to do with politics, especially with the Washington type of politics which politicians tend to show disdain for when speaking to local voters. Once in Congress, Rosen established a record for moderation and bipartisanship, both qualities that can resonate with the electorate in Nevada, a true purple state which both parties feel is up for grabs. She takes special pride in being among the founders of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans and dedicated to resolving political deadlocks. “We make the joke now that you have to come like Noah’s Ark—you have to come two by two, you have to have a Republican and a Democrat. I think we can find some consensus there and show people that we can begin to talk again,” she described the group’s work.
For the Jewish community, Rosen is still remembered as the communal leader who traded shul leadership, as president of her Henderson Ner Tamid Reform synagogue, for Washington politics. And yes, she does view her term at the synagogue leadership as a good lesson for politics. “It tells me, too, that even though we’re in the minority, I know that my voice needs to be heard, because we must be represented, we must speak out. I feel that it’s my responsibility for the things I care about,” she said before announcing her Senate race last year.
If Rosen is to beat Heller in November, she will need not only money (and so far the two rivals have raised and spent similar amounts, though Rosen is up against a stronger funding stream for negative ads attacking her) but also a strong turnout of Latino voters who could be the deciders in the upcoming elections. Rosen has focused much of her campaign on immigration issues, staking a strong position on legislation aimed at protecting DREAMers, young undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children, and on fighting the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance policy,” which led to separating immigrant children from their parents. She has also made a point of fighting for the preservation of the Affordable Care Act, but has not joined the growing crowd led by progressive Democrats calling for a Medicare for all system.
A recent New York Times article described Rosen as “neither cagey nor glossy nor particularly electrifying” and as lacking the stardom qualities of candidates such as Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke. But while these attributes, some a result of her being a newcomer to politics, could make it harder for Rosen to manage a tight, well-financed, nationally-watched Senate race, she is by no means being ignored by her rival Republicans. In fact, this summer Rosen joined the ranks of a handful of Democrats (and some Republicans) who won their own personal pejoratives from President Donald Trump. “Wacky Jacky,” as coined by Trump during a pro-Heller rally he held, is now her official Trump nickname, alongside “crooked Hillary” Clinton, “crazy Bernie” Sanders and “Lyin Ted” Cruz.