One-Term Nevada Congresswoman Takes Gamble With Senate Bid

Rep. Jacky Rosen is rolling the dice by launching a Senate bid six months after joining the House.

If the Nevada Democrat wins statewide in the nation’s gaming haven next year, she’ll join a select group of senators who were promoted after their first two-year House term. Senators with previous House experience have on average served four terms, or eight years, University of Minnesota political scientist Eric Ostermeier said in an email Thursday.

It’s also a fairly unusual, even audacious, move that carries significant political risk. If she loses, Rosen could be in the political wilderness after the 2018 elections, a time period in which House Democrats are campaigning to be in the House majority.

The former computer programmer and president of Nevada’s largest synagogue announced her Senate candidacy on Thursday. She’s seeking to challenge Sen. Dean Heller, widely considered the most vulnerable Republican senator and currently the target of furious lobbying efforts by both supporters and opponents of the Senate GOP’s health care bill.

Rosen, 59, won her sprawling Henderson-based House seat, south of Las Vegas, in 2016 when it came open. Former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who’s now retired, has been a longtime booster of her political career.

In leaving the House after a single term, Rosen will have some history on her side. Two current senators, both Republicans, have won Senate seats after short House tenures. In 2014, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas beat a Democratic incumbent less than two years after joining the House. That same year in Montana, then-freshman Rep. Steve Daines captured an open Senate seat.

But a relatively recent Senate race in North Dakota offers a cautionary tale for Rosen. In 2012, first-term Rep. Rick Berg (R) was considered the favorite to capture an open Senate seat in North Dakota. The Peace Garden State is strongly Republican, and that year GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won 59 percent of the vote there. But Berg came up short against his Democratic rival — Heidi Heitkamp, a former state attorney general.

Eight years earlier, Rep. Denise Majette (D-Ga.) gave up her House seat after a single term to wage an uphill battle for an open Senate seat. She lost by a wide margin to now-Sen. Johnny Isakson (R).

Sens. Cotton and Daines are among only 20 one-term House members to win a Senate in the direct-election era that began a little more than a century ago, according to the University of Minnesota’s Ostermeier, founder of Smart Politics, a political statistics site.

Others who successfully made the leap include Rep. Rod Grams, a Minnesota Republican who won a Senate seat in the 1994 GOP landslide. He lost the seat six years later after a single Senate term.

In 1996, Rep. Sam Brownback of Kansas beat an appointed Republican senator in the primary before winning the general election. He served in the Senate for 14 years before winning the Kansas governorship in 2010.

Going back to 1944, Arkansas Democrat William J. Fulbright — later a leading skeptic of the war in Vietnam and namesake of a prestigious international exchange program — won a Senate seat after his first House term. He beat an incumbent Democratic senator in the primary, eventually rising to chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and serving in the chamber for 30 years.

In earlier eras, some famous names of one-term representatives who went directly to the Senate include Andrew Jackson of Tennessee — the nation’s seventh president — and Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, who in 1861 turned his back on the United States to lead the Confederate States.

Looking to the 2018 race in Nevada, Rosen is targeting Heller as an “enabler” of President Donald Trump’s agenda.

“With a majority of just two in the Senate, President Trump couldn’t possibly succeed with his hateful far-right agenda without the support of Senator Dean Heller,” Rosen said in her campaign announcement statement.

The Heller campaign responded by linking Rosen to Reid, the longtime Senate Democratic leader and a reviled figure in some GOP circles.

“Thought Nevada was free of Harry Reid? Think again,” campaign spokesperson Tommy Ferraro said in an emailed statement to Morning Consult.