Published Monday, July 1, 2013 | 10:40 a.m.
Updated Monday, July 1, 2013 | 2:12 p.m.
Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., now has an official challenger in the 2014 election.
Erin Bilbray-Kohn, a nonprofit consultant and Democratic committeewoman, announced her candidacy today for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District.
The announcement sets up a tough fight for the district, which Democrats called a “top pick up opportunity” in a press release announcing Bilbray-Kohn’s candidacy.
Bilbray-Kohn, a Bishop Gorman High School graduate, calls herself a politically moderate woman who fights for middle-class values.
“I’m a mother of two daughters, and I’m a small business woman, and I’ve also spent my entire life trying to make this community a better place,” she said, noting that she and her husband, Noah Kohn, established the Free Clinic of Southern Nevada.
The 44-year-old daughter of former Nevada Congressman James Bilbray said she’s challenging Heck because he hasn’t represented the middle-class values of the district and “goes wherever the wind takes him.”
“Instead of focusing on what we really care about, jobs and the economy, he’s just kind of playing politics,” she said.
Heck welcomed Bilbray-Kohn to the race.
"My opponent and I have very different backgrounds and experiences and I plan on highlighting my experience fighting for Nevada's families and career of public service over the course of the campaign," he said in an emailed statement.
Bilbray-Kohn is no stranger to politics. She founded and works for Emerge Nevada, a nonprofit that encourages and enables women to run for political office.
Although she’s never held elected office, she and her daughters starred in a video advertisement for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.
“We need a president who will stand up for women’s health and stay focused on jobs and the economic recovery,” she said in the advertisement. “The dreams of all of our daughters are at stake, and they’re counting on us to fight for them.”
Bilbray-Kohn was widely seen as the most likely Democratic candidate as early as January. The party views her as a candidate who can defeat Heck in the competitive 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses Henderson and most of unincorporated Clark County.
While Heck cruised to reelection in 2012, Democrats and Republicans alike view CD3 as the most likely battleground in the 2014 election.
Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange called Bilbray-Kohn a “champion for the middle class” while maligning Heck for his recent vote to defund a program that allows young immigrants who were brought to the country as children lacking documentation to avoid deportation and gain limited work authorization. Lange also sought to align Heck with “Wall Street corporations” and “Big Oil companies.”
Republicans responded to the announcement with a press release calling the Democratic candidate the “Democratic establishment’s handpicked candidate” who has “made a living playing politics.”
“Come next November, Nevadans will have a clear choice between Erin Bilbray-Kohn, who represents a vote for Nancy Pelosi’s tired tax and spend agenda, and Joe Heck, who has been a proven problem solver for the people of his district,” said Alleigh Marré, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
She cleared a hurdle earlier this month when the Federal Elections Commission ruled that she could continue her work as a consultant at Emerge Nevada as she campaigned for Congress.
Bilbray-Kohn said she has worked with candidates like Democratic Attorney General Catherine Cortez-Masto and Democratic Assemblywomen Irene Bustamante Adams and Ellen Spiegel.
In her own race, Bilbray-Kohn may have a slight advantage. There are more about 10,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in a district with about 350,000 active voters, according to the Nevada’s Secretary of State office.
But about 65,000 of those active voters are registered independent, and the 2014 election will feature no race for the U.S. Presidency or a U.S. Senate seat. Some voters might choose to stay home on Election Day without those high profile races to motivate voters to go to the polls.
In 2012, Heck beat Democratic challenger and former Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, collecting 137,244 votes to Oceguera’s 116,823.
With the next election still 16 months in the future, Bilbray-Kohn says her next step will be canvassing the district and talking to voters.
For now, her campaign has just one staffer, Rhonda Foxx. She also relies on advice from informal advisers who literally meet in the kitchen of her home near Buffalo Drive and Desert Inn Road in Spring Valley.
“I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and fight for our community,” she said.
Although her legal name is Bilbray-Kohn, her campaign says she’ll appear on the ballot as Erin Bilbray because that’s how most people know her, Foxx said.
While she’ll be on the ballot for CD3, she lives in Nevada’s 1st Congressional District, according to voter registration data from the Clark County Registrar’s Office.
Candidates for Congress don’t have to reside in the district for which they are seeking office. Bilbray lives just north of the district line.