Congressional candidate Erin Bilbray on Tuesday kicked off a “Women for Bilbray” campaign in hopes of boosting female voter turnout she’ll need to defeat U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., in the November election.
Bilbray got some help from U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, who announced she donated $1,000 to Bilbray at the breakfast fundraiser, a gathering at a Las Vegas law firm of some two dozen leading Nevada women politicians, judges, attorneys and Democratic donors and volunteers.
“It is absolutely clear and key: With the women vote, Erin will win,” Wasserman Schultz said. “If women stay home Erin won’t win. … And we need another young mom to represent the state of Nevada. And that woman is Erin Bilbray.”
Until this week, it appeared the national Democratic Party wasn’t offering Bilbray much help in her battle to beat Heck, who represents the 3rd Congressional District in Clark County, including Henderson and Boulder City.
That changed on Monday when Wasserman Schultz promoted Bilbray’s campaign, as well as other female candidates in the Silver State, at a women’s round-table at the Nevada Democratic Party headquarters.
On Wednesday, Bilbray will get some high-powered support from Vice President Joe Biden, who will headline a rally for her at the Henderson Convention Center after he speaks to a NAACP convention in Las Vegas.
Bilbray said she was excited by the fresh public effort by national Democrats to back her campaign, but she said the DCCC has been bringing her to Washington, D.C., for training and to meet big money donors for months.
“All along I knew there would be momentum,” Bilbray said, adding that she drew 500 supporters when she officially opened her campaign office in the spring. “It does seem this week, the full faucet has been turned on.”
Bilbray is focusing on contrasting herself with Heck on several women’s issues as a strategy for victory. Bilbray founded Emerge Nevada, which trains female Democratic candidates and has seen 14 of them elected. Bilbray and her husband also opened the first free pediatric clinic in Southern Nevada.
The mother of two daughters, ages 9 and 12, Bilbray said she wants them to have the same opportunities as men when they grow up. Bilbray said Heck has voted against an equal pay bill, to defund Planned Parenthood and to do away with President Barack Obama’s health care insurance plan, which offers free birth control to women.
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Hobby Lobby case that closely held companies didn’t have to provide free birth control if they had religious objections, a decision Heck called “reasonable,” Bilbray noted.
“Our values couldn’t be more different,” Bilbray said of she and Heck.
Despite the public Democratic support this week for Bilbray, who is backed by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., she hasn’t received much other help from the national party.
As an example, the DCCC and the House Majority PAC, an outside group focused on House races, hasn’t reserved any TV time for ads to support Bilbray in the fall as they have for other Democrats in close races across the country.
Partly as a result, last week the well-respected Rothenberg Report moved Heck’s seat to “Republican favored” from “lean Republican.” Heck is running for a third, two-year term in the Nov. 4 general election.
Heck also has a big money advantage over Bilbray. She raised under $225,000 in the quarter ending June 30 and has about $500,000 cash on hand. In comparison, Heck raised $387,000 and has $1.46 million cash for his campaign.
It’s also unclear if Bilbray’s strategy will work to focus on women’s issues to defeat Heck, although it’s probably her best bet, according to David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Damore said the same line of attack has been used against Heck before with mixed results. It worked in 2008 when Heck lost his state Senate seat to Democrat Shirley Breeden. Democrats were helped that year by Obama’s historic campaign. But the tactic failed in the past two elections, in 2010 when Heck was first elected to Congress and in 2012.
“Accenting the Democrats’ connection to women looks to be a key component of the party’s midterm strategy,” Damore said. “Typically, there is fall-off in turnout among single women in midterms as compared to presidential elections. … Framing the GOP as the party of old white men and using issues like the Hobby Lobby ruling and health care more generally to motivate turnout among marginal midterm voters may be key in districts like CD3.”
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.