Jacky Rosen Takes Lead in Nevada Senate Race Polls, Despite Sheldon Adelson

The former Reform synagogue president is bidding to be the third Jewish woman to serve in the Senate, as incumbent Dean Heller seemingly pays price for calling Kavanaugh allegations a ‘hiccup’

Democratic Senate candidate Jacky Rosen in Las Vegas, Nevada, May 26, 2018.
Bloomberg

Jacky Rosen is closer to becoming only the third Jewish woman to serve in the U.S. Senate – and the first to be elected from a state other than California – after a new poll shows her holding a slim but consistent lead over incumbent Nevada senator Dean Heller in the November midterms.

A new CNN poll published Tuesday shows Rosen leading Heller by four points – her largest margin yet in a tight race. Spring and summer polling showed Rosen and Heller in a virtual tie, with Heller polling ahead in some surveys. However, since the beginning of September Rosen has pulled ahead in polling, with the CNN survey showing 47 percent of likely voters saying they would support her, with 43 percent behind Heller.

The anti-Trump female vote has been a major factor with 52 percent of women supporting Rosen, whom the president derisively nicknamed “Wacky Jacky.” By comparison, only 38 percent of women backed Heller.

Rosen, a first-term congresswoman, hit Heller hard last week for his unswerving support of Trump in the raging confirmation battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Heller had dismissed sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh, saying: “We got a little hiccup here with the Kavanaugh nomination, we’ll get through this and we’ll get off to the races.” Rosen slammed his remarks as “shameful and out of touch.”

U.S. midterms

But Rosen’s most consistent and unrelenting attacks on Heller have focused on the veteran senator’s switching his position on health care in 2017. Heller performed an Obamacare flip-flop after Trump publicly threatened him, saying he should drop his opposition to the Republican plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act if he “wants to remain a senator.”

Heller reportedly changed his position after heavy pressure was applied on him by billionaire casino mogul and megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who lives in Nevada and owns the state’s major newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

According to the New York Times, when Heller first announced his intention to oppose Trump on health care, Adelson “contacted Mr. Heller at the request of the White House last week to complain.” Heller seems to have learned his lesson and the Republican senator, who distanced himself from Trump in 2016, is now embracing him.

Since then, Heller appears to have returned to Adelson’s good graces, and both Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have donated substantially to his war chest at various fundraisers and through political action committees. Last June, Heller was among five candidates who received special Adelson contributions (seen as rewards for staunchly opposing the Iran nuclear deal, a week after Trump withdrew from the agreement).

Last May, Heller criticized Rosen – who has been endorsed by nonprofit Jewish liberal group J Street – for her support of the Iran deal.

Rosen’s campaign fired back, with her communications director defending her strong record in Congress of supporting Israel and holding Iran accountable, and calling the Heller attack “false, pathetic & offensive.”

A Rosen victory would be a major upset by a political newcomer against a veteran heavyweight. Heller, a former Nevada secretary of state, was a two-term congressman before he was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2011, and then elected the following year, but is the most vulnerable incumbent Republican senator.

Their battle is one of the most closely watched, and financed, midterm contests. If Democrats stand a chance of realizing their dream of flipping the Senate in their favor (from the current 51-49 in favor of the GOP), Nevada is a must-win. And with more than half of the state polling disapproval of Trump, there are high hopes of Heller’s seat flipping blue.

Heller, however, continues to bet on the Trump base, and on September 20 Trump came to Nevada for a “Make America Great Again” rally and to fundraise for Heller. As of June, Heller’s campaign had $5.8 million on hand, versus $3.8 million in the bank for Rosen’s campaign, according to CNBC. It said outside funding has also been substantial, with the pro-Democratic Senate Majority PAC spending $9 million and the pro-GOP Senate Leadership Fund shelling out $5 million.

Before entering politics, Rosen – who put herself through college as a waitress and then worked in computer programming – built her public profile serving as president of her Reform Jewish synagogue, Congregation Ner Tamid, for three years.

When she announced her candidacy in May, Politico dubbed her “The ex-synagogue president who could decide Senate control.”

Rosen was criticized over the summer for remarks she made about comforting the families of victims of last year’s Las Vegas shooting attack (at an out-of-state fundraiser in a Seattle synagogue). She was accused of politicizing the tragedy by implying her past role as a synagogue president made her more qualified to comfort the victims’ families than other officials.

In a video obtained by the Nevada Independent, Rosen told her audience that she channeled her “inner rabbi” and used her experience as a former synagogue president when figuring out how to console the victims of the devastating attack last October as “none of the other politicians” did.