Born into a political family, Erin Bilbray was just 3 years old when her father, James Bilbray, first ran for Congress in 1972. He lost to a Republican after surviving a bitter Democratic primary.
Bilbray made a comeback, however, and after serving in the state Senate, ran for Congress again in 1986 and won. It took a GOP wave election to run him out of office in 1994, when Republicans took control of the House.
Now, the Democratic daughter is trying to follow in her father’s footsteps, making her first run for Congress in a midterm election when the GOP is again considered to have the momentum.
Bilbray, a Democratic National Committeewoman and a founder of Emerge Nevada, a group that trains women to run for political office, is the favorite to win the June 10 primary against a little-known opponent, Zachary Campbell.
If Bilbray wins the Democratic primary, she will face U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., in the Nov. 4 general election in the 3rd Congressional District. It’s the most competitive district in Nevada because it’s nearly equally divided between registered Democrat and Republican voters; Democrats held a slim edge at the end of April.
Heck is running for a third term in the Clark County district, which includes Boulder City and Henderson. He faces no GOP primary opposition. Heck’s top priorities have been jobs, housing, the economy and veterans affairs.
Bilbray said she’s running to replace Heck because she thinks she represents Southern Nevada’s values better than he does, including equal marriage rights for gays and equal pay for women, which she says her two young daughters deserve.
Bilbray said she has a history of accomplishment, including advising Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto for eight years, launching Emerge Nevada, which has helped elect more than a dozen women to public office, and co-founding Southern Nevada’s first free clinic for children with her physician husband, Noah.
“People can see what I’ve done,” Bilbray said. “I really feel that I share the values of voters in the district.”
If elected, Bilbray said her top priorities would be ensuring access to health care, especially for women. She also wants to focus on job creation by helping small businesses, cutting red tape and excess regulation and providing tax relief.
Her Democratic opponent, Campbell, ran for a state Assembly seat in 2010 but lost the primary.
Campbell said his focus is on more transparency in the court system and on what he sees as aggressive police tactics.
“I’m the stick pushing the hornet’s nest,” Campbell said, explaining he wants to stir things up.
Asked why voters should pick him over Bilbray, Campbell said, “I’m really the common man.”
Campbell acknowledged he has a court record but refused to say what it involved. A search of Clark County Justice Court records shows Campbell has had about two dozen traffic-related citations dating from 1999 until February of this year. They include illegal parking, speeding, driving without insurance or registration and driving with an open container. He also has faced a gross misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct that was closed in 2008.
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