With just three weeks to Election Day, the Nevada Senate race is locked in a dead heat. Jacky Rosen is trailing behind incumbent Senator Dean Heller by just under 2 points, according to the latest polling.
Nevada’s Senate race is perhaps the Democrats’ best chance for picking up a seat in their bid to win control of both chambers of Congress. Hillary Clinton carried Nevada in 2016, making some observers hopeful that anger at the Trump administration will carry Rosen to victory. Nevada’s other Senator is Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat who in 2016, became the first Latina in the Senate. If Rosen wins, Nevada will be the 7th state in the union to be represented by two female Senators.
Rosen, who is already serving in Congress as Representative for Nevada’s 3rd district, has spent the better part of the past year, travelling all over the “purple” state making her case to voters. Although she is already serving in Washingon, she’s not well-known outside of her district, which encompasses areas south of Las Vegas. Before being elected to the U.S. House in 2016, her only political experience was serving as president of her synagogue. The challenge before her now: Convince Nevada voters to choose her, a relative unknown, over the man that’s been their representative (in some capacity, either in the Nevada state house or as Nevada’s secretary of state) since 1990.
Her strategy: Be herself — and never let people forget that Sen. Heller promised Nevadans that he would not vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and then he went back to Washington and did just that. “You can watch the tape,” she says. “Dean Heller made a promise in Nevada with Governor Sandoval — our Republican Governor, mind you — that he not would take away health care from hundreds of thousands of Nevadans. He went back to Washington and caved to Mitch McConnell and voted to do just that.”
Refinery29 caught up with Rosen over the phone last week for a chat about why she decided to run now, how Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation affected her 22-year-old daughter, and Trump’s sexist nickname for her.
You are not a career politician. I read that many people close to you were surprised when you ran in 2016 in Nevada’s 3rd district, and now you’re running for Senate in one of the most-watched races in the country. Why start your political career now?
At this point in my life, I've done a lot of things. I raised my family, worked as a systems analyst and computer programmer, I took care of my parents and in-laws as they aged stepped up to serve my community doing philanthropy. I had a career in technology, so I didn't really think that a career in politics would be open to someone like me. I think in the past, people have thought you have to be on the linear path in order to go into politics. This election, I believe shook that up a little bit. Now you see people stepping up from all kinds of careers — veterans, educators, nurses, chemists, engineers computer programmers — realizing that our experiences shape our values, those values inform our leadership and they are valid and important to how we move forward.
When I had this opportunity to run for this open seat in 2016, I was an empty nester who had been the caregiver for my parents and in-laws they had unfortunately passed not too long before that and I was willing to take a risk. And I was lucky enough to win. And then when this election came and Hillary won our state but Trump won my district and I won, it just became clear that the path to victory is through Nevada's 3rd district.
Dean Heller is the most vulnerable incumbent up, and President Trump has proved to is be so much worse than what anybody imagined. So I thought it was the right thing for me to step up again. It was important not just for my community, not just in my state, but for our country, for the world and for all the next generations to come.
Healthcare is the central issue in your race, and in so many races across the country. Why is that?
When I talk to people in Nevada, no matter where I go, whatever they've come to talk to me about, as a congresswoman or as a candidate, everyone wants to tell me and share with me their stories about health care. Especially since Dean Heller wants to weaken the protections for pre-existing conditions or possibly even take them away — it has people panicked. I have grandparents and parents calling me saying that would be a possible death sentence.
I often talk about the Thanksgiving blessing. When you go around the table, if you're lucky enough to have a great Thanksgiving feast, what people talk about is this: Number one we're thankful for our family and our friends, but we're also thankful for our health. We all know that if you don't have your health, you don't have anything. Women, especially, are oftentimes the caretakers for their family. We understand how important our physical health is or spiritual health or financial health. We just want to be sure that we have healthy families.
Do you think the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court will play a role at all in the Nevada race?
What I can tell you is that I have a 22-year-old daughter and her and all of her friends are — well, distressed would probably be putting it too mildly. They're so upset over what happened and what they're really upset about is the way that Dr. Ford was treated. The way that women are dismissed when they come forward to speak their truth that we aren't treated with respect and dignity. So it's like a second assault. I think people get that.
[In terms of Nevada], the elevation of Judge Kavanaugh came without Senator Heller doing due diligence. He said initially that the minute he met Judge Kavanagh, he had no reservations and he had already decided on his vote prior to testimony, prior to any of this coming out and certainly prior to any investigation. The Senate's job of advice and consent is serious business. But when Dr. Ford did come forward, Dean Heller just said hey this is just a hiccup, and then we'll be back to the races. No woman wants to think that their harassment or assault is just a hiccup to somebody, and so Dean Heller is on the wrong side of that.
Why are you the better choice for Nevada?
Well first, I can tell you that Nevada is a very interesting state. We're a purple state. I want to say we're the New West. A lot of people don't know that much about us — they think we're just Lake Tahoe or the few miles of the Las Vegas strip and downtown. But there is a diversity in our community that people don't really see because they just think of us as the entertainment capital of the world. But that diversity really makes us strong and it’s why people have an independent streak here. Voters want to really see that you are going to stand for Nevada first. Be that person who fights for the best thing for our families. And over and over again Senator Heller and everything that he's done over the last ten years he's been in Washington and the 30 years in political office seems to be to betray Nevada families.
He says one thing here and goes back to Washington and votes another way. He says he wants to protect Planned Parenthood. He went back to Washington and voted ten times to defund it. He said he was going to protect Nevadans health care. He went back to Washington and voted to repeal. We can talk about education: He gets an F from the National Education Association. He gets a D from the Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. His NAACP report card has been an F throughout his time in Congress. Last year he received a zero for League of Conservation Voters. Overall, he says one thing in Nevada but his actions and words don't ever seem to match up and based on what I’ve seen, people in Nevada are paying attention.
Beyond healthcare, what are some issues you think Washington needs to prioritize?
We really have to talk about election security. As a former computer programmer, I think our personal security and safety is on the line every day. Our country's security and safety is on the line every day. We know for a fact that as computers get stronger and smaller and more people have technical ability, they will try to infiltrate. And so I think that we really have to focus on how we're going to protect individuals and our country from cyber attacks.
Another issue I think it's very important to people that I talk to after healthcare and of course immigration, is education. The person who will solve our next big problem, the one we can't even see yet, is probably in kindergarten right now. The person who will hopefully cure Alzheimer's maybe they're in the third grade now. We don't know what school. We don't know where, but boy, we better have the platforms in place to excite and open those children's minds across this country so they can cure disease, do the next space race. Take on whatever the challenges we have.
Trump has given you the nickname “Wacky Jacky.” Where do you think he got that?
Laughs. I think it just came from it rhymes. There is nothing more to it, basically. I will tell you that every time someone says that they chuckle. I don't necessarily think that is what the president wanted when he gave me a nickname. But either way, I just keep moving forward. I have my blinders on. I know what I need to do here in Nevada. I need to hold Sen. Heller accountable for his actions. The president is going to do what he wants. He wants to give me a nickname. That's great. But the people who live there are smart. They pay attention, and they're not going to be distracted by a nickname when you just point out the facts. And that's what I'm going to do.
This is something they do to women. It’s another tactic used to demoralize and make women seem less than. They call me “Wacky Jacky” to say I'm not qualified. They've photoshopped me to give me evil eyebrows. There are a lot of things that the other side has tried to do that I believe are very sexist.
How do you deal with that? What’s your advice to young women who see this kind of thing happening and see it as a reason to just stay out of politics?
I’ll tell you the same advice I give my daughter: Don't not do something because it's hard. Time's going to go by anyway. And if you don't try you never will get there so what you have to do is don't wait to be asked. Don't wait. One of the things that I think young women — well maybe they don't, I'm not a young woman anymore! But I can tell you that women of my generation and many women I’ve talked to, we always think that we're not prepared enough.
We think, if I had one class or one more degree or one more whatever, we would be ready. And I think that that's the narrative that has to change in our own minds. And so if you see something that you want to try, don't sit back and say I'll try it after I take one more class or do x y z whatever that is for that particular endeavor. I would tell women to stand up to not wait to be asked to go for things that you think that that are important to you. Go out there. Get your friends mobilized, get organized, and try.