State Sen. Ruben Kihuen on Thursday launched a campaign for Congress, hoping his deep Hispanic community ties carry him to victory in Southern Nevada as the state's first Latino representative.
"I grew up in these neighborhoods, and I know firsthand the needs of the people," Kihuen said in an interview. "My dad has lost a job before, my mother too. Ours is a common story of an immigrant family who comes to this country with lots of hopes and dreams and not many friends."
Kihuen announced his congressional bid in a four-minute YouTube video posted in both English and Spanish. The 31-year-old senator was long expected to run for one of the three districts that will be in Southern Nevada, home to most of the state's Hispanics, who make up 26 percent of Nevada's population.
"I care about preserving the American dream, and I believe I can make a positive difference for you and for your family," Kihuen said in the video, which featured an American flag within the frame. "I'm running for Congress because I care about people like you."
Kihuen said he would run in whichever district has the highest percentage of Hispanics once congressional lines are drawn by a court-appointed panel. It could be as high as 40 percent to 50 percent Hispanic and overlap parts of his Senate district where he is serving his first four-year term. Previously, he represented the East Las Vegas area in the Assembly for two terms.
"Some people have questioned my experience and my age, but this was my third legislative session and I served in the leadership," said Kihuen, who chaired an economic development panel in 2011. "I've already heard all the criticism, but I think I can represent my community and Nevada well."
The National Republican Congressional Committee was quick to criticize Kihuen's record, including backing Democratic proposals to raise taxes to support education.
"Ruben Kihuen's high taxing and big spending record in the Nevada Legislature clearly puts him at odds with the needs of Nevada's struggling families and small businesses," said NRCC spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton, who linked Kihuen with President Barack Obama's policies. "Nevada's battered economy simply cannot afford another Obama rubber stamp like Ruben Kihuen in Congress."
Kihuen is the fourth Democrat to launch a congressional campaign in Southern Nevada.
Former Rep. Dina Titus, Assembly Speaker John Oceguera and state Sen. John Lee also are running for Congress. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, also is expected to run for a House seat, setting up the likelihood of competitive Democratic primaries.
Kihuen said he isn't intimidated, although Titus and Horsford are both considered Democratic Party favorites who probably would get plenty of backing from financial and party heavyweights.
"We're expecting a competitive primary, and we're expecting a competitive general," Kihuen said, adding he thinks he has the local advantage. "I'm looking to run in a district where I'm well-known. I've been representing these constituents for the past five years in the Legislature."
In the video, Kihuen emphasized his Las Vegas roots. He noted he is a graduate of Rancho High School, the College of Southern Nevada and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
He also sympathized with Nevadans who can't find jobs as employment hovers around 14 percent in Southern Nevada.
"I care about the unemployed who are struggling to survive here in Nevada," said Kihuen, whose parents are Mexican immigrants. "I know what it's like when a parent struggles to put food on the table."
Kihuen was born in Mexico but at age 8 came to California with his parents, who were laborers.
His father, now a teacher, worked in the fields and at fast food places, his mother as a cleaner in restaurants and homes. The family with four children moved to Las Vegas when Kihuen was 13 after the shipping and receiving company his father worked for relocated.
Family members are all U.S. citizens, he said, with his parents benefiting from the 1986 amnesty program for immigrants during the Reagan administration.
Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.