LAS VEGAS — The vote count in the most expensive House race in the country was so close on election night that Jacky Rosen never made it on stage at the Aria casino to give a victory speech with her fellow Democrats.
But she anticipated her eventual triumph over Republican candidate Danny Tarkanian as she watched election coverage behind the scenes with Larry, her husband of 23 years who’s a radiologist at the Veterans Administration hospital, and her daughter Miranda, who attends Princeton but came home to watch her mother make her political debut.
It was clear by the wee hours of Wednesday morning, after the victory party had ended, that she’d won 47 percent to 46 percent.
“It was (Miranda’s) 21st birthday — she got a good birthday present seeing her mom win,” said Rosen, 59, who’s taking over the 3rd Congressional District seat vacated by three-term Republican Rep. Joe Heck following his unsuccessful bid for Senate. “She’s really proud of me and that means more to me than anything on the planet.”
An open seat with nearly equal Democratic and Republican registration, the southern Nevada district has long been considered a toss-up and attracted a staggering $17 million in outside spending. Both sides chalk up Rosen’s win over Tarkanian, a frequent candidate, to a relentless Democratic ground game that helped swing state Nevada buck national trends favoring Republicans.
“Those Democrats who won must owe (Sen.) Harry Reid a pretty big debt for what he built,” said Tarkanian’s campaign manager, Jonathan Gormley. “We did what we could as a candidate campaign, but the other side had a lot more cavalry.”
Democrats say it was the personal warmth of Rosen, a former computer programmer, and her message of proffering sensible solutions that helped her defeat the better-known Tarkanian.
Rosen’s campaign manager David Furr, pointed to Tarkanian’s plans to defund Planned Parenthood and his stance against abortion in cases of rape or incest.
“He’s taken some positions that are extreme,” Furr said. “They’re just not in step with folks in the third district.”
The powerful, retiring Reid picked Rosen when other Democrats turned down a run. While Republicans cited the polarizing senior senator’s support as a negative in campaign ads, Rosen didn’t hesitate to thank him in her first public statement after winning.
“Senator Reid supported me throughout this process, in the early days when maybe only my closest friends thought I had a shot,” she said. “Thank you for believing in me.”
Born and raised in Chicago, Rosen followed her parents out west in 1980 and she spent summers in Nevada waiting tables as a member of the powerful Culinary Workers Union, which endorsed her. She went on to become a software developer for major companies including Citibank.
After taking time off work to care for her parents and in-laws before they died, she managed day-to-day operations at Ner Tamid synagogue in Henderson during her three years as president. On the campaign trail, she often discussed her experiences navigating government bureaucracy as caregiver for her aging parents, and her work securing a solar system to cut costs for her congregation.
Now, she’s putting her efforts into setting up her new district office. With her party in the minority in the House, and sitting in a district that’s favored Republicans in recent cycles, she sees good constituent services as insurance for the next election.
“I don’t want to miss a beat on constituent services,” she said.
Meanwhile, Tarkanian is feeling the sting of a one percentage point loss that put him tantalizingly close to holding public office.
His supporters had hoped enthusiasm for Donald Trump and Tarkanian’s wide name recognition as son of the late, legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian would help him triumph over the relatively unknown Rosen. Instead, he was spending this week cleaning out his campaign office and dropping by the youth basketball academy where he’s president.
“I have a lot of time and I don’t know how to fill it,” the Republican said Thursday after nearly a year and a half of campaigning.
Tarkanian scored a comfortable victory in a vicious Republican primary this summer, but Tuesday’s loss marked his sixth unsuccessful pursuit of elected office and the closest he’s ever been to a general election win. He was not ready to say whether he will seek elected office again.
“I couldn’t even answer this question,” he said. “In the near term we’re going to get over this loss.”