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Democrats Land Reid Recruit in Competitive Nevada District

Heck, a Republican, is vacating the 3rd District to run for Senate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Nevada Republican Rep. Joe Heck's decision  to run for Senate last summer gave Democrats an opening to compete for his 3rd District seat. But up until Tuesday, the national party had taken heat for its struggles to recruit in the district and wasn't excited about the candidates already in the race.  

That changed when Jacky Rosen, the leader of a Henderson synagogue, announced her candidacy for the 3rd District Tuesday.  

“I’ve been proud to call Southern Nevada home for more than 35 years and it’s been an incredible place to work, raise a family, care for my parents and volunteer in the community. But there are serious challenges holding us back," Rosen said in a Tuesday release. "I’m running for Congress because these challenges also present opportunities."  

Currently the president of congregation Ner Tamid, Rosen was previously a programmer and software developer.  

Outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid reached out to Rosen , and Rosen has met with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C., which is excited about her candidacy and her ability to raise money.  

While first-time candidates often struggle with asking for money, Democrats say that's a familiar challenge for someone who's had to raise money for her synagogue. National Democrats also praised Rosen for "being an outsider in an outsider’s year" and underscored the importance of her being a woman. "Being a woman is really important in a swing district," a Democratic strategist said. EMILY's List is talking to Rosen. "She’s a great fit for the district and has a well-established network for political support and fundraising in the state while offering a fresh perspective," said Democratic consultant Achim Bergmann, who owns a home in the district but is not working with Rosen. "She will be able to set up a strong outsider vs. consummate partisan political insider contrast with Roberson if he can sneak through that primary," Bergmann added, referring to state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, the establishment favorite for the GOP nomination.  

Heck vacating the seat prompted the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call to change the district's rating from Republican Favored to Pure Tossup . But Silver State Democrats interested in running for Congress had friendlier territory in which to launch a campaign in the 4th District, which the Rothenberg & Gonzales/Political Report rates Tilts Democrat.  

GOP Rep. Cresent Hardy defeated Democratic former Rep. Steven A. Horsford by only 3 points in the 4th District in 2014, a year when Democratic turnout in Nevada was low, and President Barack Obama twice carried the district by double digits. Given the Democratic tilt of the district, there's now a crowded Democratic primary to take on Hardy, one of Roll Call's most vulnerable members .  

Several candidates whom the DCCC tried to woo for the 3rd District, including state Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford and former Secretary of State Ross Miller , have passed on the race.  

That's not to say Democrats were without a candidate in the 3rd District, which Obama carried by 9 points in 2008 and 1 point in 2012. Attorney Jesse Sbaih has been in the race since the summer. He raised $241,000 in the final quarter of 2015 (including a $200,000 personal loan.) But national Democrats questioned his viability, suggesting he didn't have the local fundraising network to mount a winning campaign. Nevada's filing deadline is March 18 and its primary is June 14.  

The National Republican Congressional Committee criticized Rosen Tuesday, saying, "Harry Reid and Washington Democrats have handpicked their next Erin Bilbray to run in the 3rd District." Bilbray lost to Heck by 25 points in 2014.  

Contact Pathé at  simonepathe@rollcall.com  and follow her on Twitter at  @sfpathe . Correction 7:48 p.m. A previous version misstated how much Sbaih raised in the 4th quarter of 2015.  

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