Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen won an upset in the U.S. Senate race Tuesday night over incumbent Republican Dean Heller in one of the most closely fought and closely watched contests in the country, although Democratic losses in three key races elsewhere in the nation allowed Republicans to retain control of the upper chamber.
Rosen, a first-term congresswoman with no prior political experience, defeated Heller, who has spent nearly three decades in Nevada politics, by a 5.3-percentage-point margin though the two had appeared relatively close in polls in the days leading up to the election. It was a stark contrast from the outcomes of tight races in North Dakota, Missouri and Indiana, where Democrat incumbents lost to their Republican challengers.
Democrats also managed to hang on to the state’s two competitive House seats as their party nationwide wrested control of several seats from Republicans, allowing Democrats to capture control of the lower chamber. Republican businessman Danny Tarkanian lost again in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District to Democratic education advocate and philanthropist Susie Lee, while former Rep. Steven Horsford will again represent Nevada’s 4th Congressional District after defeating another former representative of the district, Republican Cresent Hardy.
For Rosen, the victory in the U.S. Senate race meant coming full circle. She delivered her victory speech at a watch party where Democrats had gathered at Caesars Palace, the same place she had worked as a cocktail waitress in college.
“I put my tips in those envelopes and it paid for my next year of college,” said Rosen, 61. “And I know it took a while, but 40 years later I’m back, and here I am.”
During the speech, Rosen thanked Heller for his 30 years of service to the state, saying he had given her a “gracious” call.
“That’s what we call a mensch,” she added, using the Yiddish word for man of integrity.
Rosen reiterated promises to fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage, affordable higher education, gun safety legislation, voting rights, immigration reform, clean energy and women’s reproductive rights, frequent themes of hers on the campaign trail. She also said she would oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicaid.
“And we have the biggest fight of all, one that binds each and every one of us,” Rosen said. “Because if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything, so I will never stop fighting to protect our health care.
Heller, in a concession speech, congratulated Rosen on a hard-fought race and reflected back on his 30 years of public service. He pointed to the passage of the tax reform bill in December and the appointment of two conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court as two signature accomplishments.
“Those are big achievements, and I was part of the United States Senate when that happened,” Heller, 58, said.
But he also said that he looked forward to helping Rosen with the transition and that he was sure that she would be able to fill his shoes and serve the state of Nevada.
“So to her, congratulations. Best of luck. She’s my senator, and if there’s anything I can do to help her in this transition myself and my staff will be willing to do so,” Heller said. “But to all of you that have supported me for the last 30 years in public office, thank you. It has been a joy. It has been an honor to serve the state of Nevada.”
Heller started off the race as the most vulnerable Republican incumbent up for re-election this year, holding the distinction of being the only member of his party in the Senate running for re-election in a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
Democrats recruited Rosen to challenge him for the seat in the hope that her background as a former computer programmer and synagogue president — and short political record — would make it difficult for the Republican senator to lob any meaningful criticisms at her.
But Heller, who first entered politics in 1990 and had never lost an election until Tuesday, managed to keep the race close with the two candidates polling essentially neck and neck up until election day. Rosen had won with 50.5 percent of the vote, while Heller secured 45.2 percent, as of 2:15 a.m. Wednesday morning.
Rosen sought to make health care the focal point in the race, highlighting Heller’s vote in favor of moving a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act forward to debate.
Her campaign ran ads featuring an orange inflatable tubeman calling Heller “Senator Spineless” in an election year in which polls showed health care was the top of mind issue for Nevada voters.
Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District
In the 3rd District, Lee won a surprisingly comfortable 52 to 43 point victory over Tarkanian in this swing House seat, which stretches from suburban Summerlin and Henderson to rural Searchlight.
The campaign largely played out as a repeat of the 2016 campaign in which Tarkanian had faced off against another moderate Democrat, Rosen, for the seat and lost by only 1.2 percentage points.
The win represents the first time that a Democrat has won the district — created after the 2000 redistricting — during a non-presidential election.
Nevada’s 4th Congressional District
Democratic former Rep. Steven Horsford scored a comfortable victory over Republican former Rep. Cresent Hardy in Nevada’s Democratic-leaning 4th Congressional District, winning with 52 percent of the vote to 44 percent garnered by Hardy.
Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District
Republican Rep. Mark Amodei beat Democratic challenger Clint Koble with 59 percent of the vote in Nevada’s deep red 2nd Congressional District, which covers most of Northern Nevada.
Nevada’s 1st Congressional District
Democratic Rep. Dina Titus easily swept to re-election on Tuesday, defeating little-known Republican Joyce Bentley with 66 percent of the vote in the heavily-Democratic district.