LAS VEGAS — Democrats picked up a U.S. Senate seat in Nevada on Tuesday night when Rep. Jacky Rosen ousted incumbent Republican Dean Heller, a one-time critic of President Donald Trump who later tethered himself to the president.
“Donald Trump said that he was on the ballot in this election,” Rosen said in her victory speech. “Well, I’m really proud to say Nevada responded accordingly.”
Rosen, a 61-year-old first-term congresswoman from Las Vegas, will become Nevada’s second-ever female U.S. senator, serving alongside the first, fellow Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto.
Rosen is a former computer programmer, software designer and president of a Henderson synagogue who narrowly won her House seat in 2016 after being recruited to run by longtime former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, whom she thanked Tuesday night.
Heller’s re-election race was never going to be easy, as the only GOP senator seeking another term in a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
He has faced a rocky road since last summer, when he initially opposed some GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, ticking off members of his party and the president. He later supported other repeal efforts and aligned himself with Trump, who helped keep a more conservative challenger out of Heller’s primary race.
Rosen highlighted that alliance throughout the campaign, calling Heller a “rubber stamp” for the president.
In turn, Heller contended Rosen was seeking the job not with decades of delivering results for the state, as he has, but with heavy support from outside liberal groups and Hollywood celebrities.
Jerry Lamb, a 72-year-old manager who lives in Henderson, was among the voters who cited Heller’s positions on the health care law as the reason he voted for Rosen.
“I just didn’t like the fact that Dean Heller said one thing and did something else,” said Lamb, an unaffiliated voter.
The race was seen as one of the Democrats’ best chances to take power in the U.S. Senate, but before results were released in Nevada on Tuesday, Republicans victories elsewhere in the country ensured the GOP would retain Senate control.
Besides looking to flip Heller’s seat, Democrats kept two open U.S. House seats near Las Vegas in their column and flipped the Nevada governor’s mansion blue.
Heller said in a concession speech in Las Vegas that Rosen and the Democratic Party had a great race up and a “blue wave” all down the ballot in Nevada.
“My hat’s off to what they have been able to achieve,” he said as he marked his first election loss in three decades of serving in federal and state office.
He said going into Tuesday evening, he expected to win. He took the blame for his loss, saying, “I know perhaps that there were more things that I could have done.”
Heller, 58, had to navigate a state with strong Trump supporters while trending blue. It’s also where the Affordable Care Act has been credited with helping 400,000 Nevadans gain health insurance coverage.
The close race at the top of the ticket has drawn nearly $100 million in campaign spending — with about $33 million being spent by the Rosen and Heller campaigns and an additional $66 million from outside groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
During the campaign, Heller highlighted Rosen’s light track record in the House and her decision to run for his seat after only six months on the job. He’s also pointed out that the bulk of the money Rosen raised has come from people living in New York and California.
In his concession speech in Las Vegas on Tuesday night, Heller cited the 2017 GOP tax law he helped write and the confirmation of judges to the U.S. Supreme Court as “generational changes” he was proud of achieving while in office.
Rosen said Tuesday that she’s humbled by her win, and plans to work on getting a $15 an hour minimum wage, ease college loan debt for students and pass “common-sense gun safety legislation,” among other goals.
The senator-elect took the stage Tuesday night to celebrate her victory at Caesars Palace, where she briefly worked as a cocktail waitress four decades ago.
“I never could have imagined all these years later really that I’d be standing here on this stage as your next United States senator,” she said.