Nevada Dem under pressure over allegations as GOP eyes seat

Greg Nash

The sexual harassment allegations against freshman Rep. Ruben Kihuen could upend the 2018 race for his key swing seat, regardless of whether the Nevada Democrat resigns.

Kihuen, who was considered a Democratic rising star before the allegations broke last week, has vowed not to resign, even in the face of pressure from Democratic leaders. If Kihuen stays in the race, he could give House Republicans an opening as the party scrambles to hang on to its majority in 2018.

But if Kihuen decides not to run for reelection, an open seat could trigger a cavalcade of Democrats interested in the Las Vegas-area seat. Nevada’s governor would need to call a special election if he resigns, prompting an unpredictable scramble for the competitive House race.

{mosads}Both parties put millions of dollars into the race for the swing seat in 2016, and it was already expected to be a high priority again even before the Kihuen allegations emerged. Republicans, who are expected to be on the defensive in 2018 House races, saw it as a rare opportunity to gain a seat.


In 2016, Kihuen emerged from a crowded primary and the former state senator went on to defeat then-Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.) by 4 points in 2016, while Hillary Clinton won Nevada’s 4th District by nearly 5 points.

While Republicans will likely have better prospects in a neighboring Nevada district — an open seat in a district that President Trump narrowly won last year — the GOP is feeling emboldened about taking back Kihuen’s district following the allegations.

“We are in a better position today than this time last week,” a House GOP strategist told The Hill, adding that they see a path to victory whether or not Kihuen steps down. “Anyway you cut it, it’s a better situation for us.”

In 2018, Democrats will need to hold on to seats like Kihuen’s, which is in a district that’s been trending toward the party since it was created during redistricting in 2011. Democrats need to flip 24 seats to take back the House.

Some Democrats believe he has no real chance of winning if he sticks it out and runs for a second term in 2018.

“It’s only a matter of time for Kihuen. If he stays and runs again, there’s no way he makes it through a primary — let alone a general election,” said David Cohen, a former Nevada operative who ran former President Obama’s campaign in the state.

Kihuen is under fire over allegations that he repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances to his finance director during his campaign. The woman, referred to as “Samantha” in a BuzzFeed  News report, left the job and confided in a staffer at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), who no longer works there, that she quit because Kihuen made her feel uncomfortable.

That staffer told another DCCC aide, who addressed it with Kihuen’s campaign manager. He brought it up to Kihuen, who denied the allegations.

Immediately after the report surfaced, Democratic leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), called on Kihuen to resign.

But Kihuen, who continues to deny the accusations, alleges that Pelosi and Luján knew about the allegations last year yet still campaigned for him. He’s questioning why they’re suddenly calling on him to resign now.

Both Pelosi and Luján denied that they knew about the allegations before the BuzzFeed report, saying that Kihuen hasn’t been able to provide evidence that they knew a year ago.

While Kihuen is standing firm on not resigning, his reelection plans are still up in the air. When asked about it by Roll Call on Wednesday, he dodged the question and said his office will have a statement in the coming days.

If Kihuen remains in his seat and runs for a second term, he’ll likely struggle to get support from national Democratic groups, especially after other sexual misconduct scandals involving Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and former Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) have raised pressure on the party over harassment issues.

The DCCC hasn’t completely ruled out spending on Kihuen if he stays in the race. But the campaign committee removed his name from its incumbent protection program after BuzzFeed broke the story, a source familiar with the decision told The Hill.

That means Kihuen would no longer benefit from the fundraising and campaign infrastructure boost it gives to vulnerable incumbents. Still, the DCCC could decide to back Kihuen through the independent expenditure side.

The Nevada Democratic Party also wouldn’t comment on whether they’d support or fundraise for him in 2018 if he runs for reelection.

That could be a blow to Kihuen, who had raised just shy of $780,000 by Sept. 30 and had less than half a million dollars in the bank.

In the event that Kihuen resigns his seat immediately, his departure would prompt Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) to call a special election, which would need to be scheduled within six months. A special election would require the Democratic and Republican state central committees to select the nominees themselves, rather than holding primaries.

 Given the unpredictable nature of special elections, Democrats would likely prefer to avoid one for Kihuen’s seat.

But if Kihuen decides instead to retire from his seat at the end of his term and not run for reelection, Nevada would still hold its June 12 primary, where voters would choose the nominees.

An open-seat race would likely trigger a crowded Democratic primary. Some Democratic names who have been floated by veteran Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston include former Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), who represented the district from 2013 to 2015, state Sen. Yvanna Cancela (D) and Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani (D). 

Amy Vilela, who is backed by a group led by the progressive commentator Cenk Uygur, is already running in the Democratic primary.

Lucy Flores, a Vilela supporter who ran against Kihuen herself in the Democratic primary last year, has called on Kihuen to step down. Flores, an ally of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), appeared to rule out another congressional bid on Twitter.

An open seat could also prompt more Republicans to jump into that side of the race, which already includes Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony.

Anthony, a top GOP recruit, has raised $141,000 in his first fundraising quarter as a candidate. But he could face Hardy, who lost the seat in 2016 to Kihuen and might consider another bid.

Tags 2022 midterm elections Al Franken Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Hillary Clinton John Conyers Nancy Pelosi Nevada Ruben Kihuen Ruben Kihuen sexual harassment allegations

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