Political Eye: Democrats buttering up Bilbray-Kohn

Democratic leaders gave Las Vegan Erin Bilbray-Kohn star treatment in Washington last week as they attempted to persuade her to run for Congress.

Following a meeting Wednesday with U.S. Rep. Steve Israel of New York, the head recruiter as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Bilbray-Kohn said she was leaning in favor of running.

"I am weighing toward doing it," she said, "I just haven’t completely made a decision." She said she might know in another month or so.

Democrats want Bilbray-Kohn to run against Republican Rep. Joe Heck in the 3rd Congressional District. They want a fresh crack at Heck in the suburban district that President Barack Obama carried over Mitt Romney in November while Heck was winning a second term by beating former Assembly Speaker John Oceguera by 50 percent to 43 percent.

Bilbray-Kohn, 43, is a political consultant and Democratic national committeewoman who founded and directs Emerge Nevada, a nonprofit that trains and supports Democratic women running for public office. Her father is Jim Bilbray, who represented Las Vegas in the House from 1987 until 1994.

A Democratic strategist in Washington said Bilbray-Kohn "is the sort of candidate we would be very interested in." Party leaders are telling Bilbray-Kohn they consider the district a priority and she would have the money and help she would need to wage a strong race.

Bilbray-Kohn and Democratic recruits from Iowa and Colorado were in Washington last week combining meetings with House leaders with social events surrounding Obama’s second inauguration.

Bilbray-Kohn was a guest at an inauguration luncheon hosted by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at the Italian Embassy, where the entertainment reportedly was supplied by Cindy Lauper and John Legend. She also attended a luncheon put on by the women’s fundraising group Emily’s List.

If Bilbray-Kohn decides to run, she will already have gotten a hint of what figures to be a rough and tumble campaign.

Republicans distributed an attack email during the week calling her the "handpicked candidate of Harry Reid," and accusing her of "hobnobbing with the party elite" while Nevada remains burdened with high unemployment.

"Erin Bilbray is already experiencing the D.C. good life," Republican spokesman Ian Prior said.

Bilbray-Kohn said she was surprised at the warning shot.

"As long as I can keep a sense of humor I should be OK," she said.

– Steve Tetreault

BYBEE HEADS HOME FROM CAPITAL

A native son is returning to Carson City to work for the Sandoval administration after several years in Washington, D.C.

Nevada native Stewart "Mac" Bybee is coming onboard as the director of public relations and community affairs for Gov. Brian Sandoval starting Friday.

Bybee comes to the governor’s office from U.S. Sen. Dean Heller’s Washington office, where he has served for the past six years managing media relations and communications strategy. Bybee also previously worked on Heller’s 2006 campaign and in Heller’s congressional office.

As a senior staff member, Bybee will oversee public affairs, community outreach and constituent service efforts for the governor’s office. Bybee will also assist with congressional and state legislative matters.

"Mac brings a wealth of knowledge from his years of experience working with Nevada and national media, and I am pleased he has agreed to join my staff," Sandoval said in an announcement. "I have no doubt that Mac will be an asset to my office and I look forward to working with him to help inform Nevadans about all that is happening within our state."

Heller wished Bybee the best and said: "Nevadans will continue to be well-served by his expertise and talent."

Bybee, who grew up in Carson City, graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno. He has also served as a legislative correspondent for former U.S. Sen. John Ensign and worked for former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan.

Also starting Friday, Mary-Sarah Kinner will serve as communications director for the governor’s office. Kinner has served as the governor’s press secretary since 2011 and previously worked on his 2010 election campaign.

– Sean Whaley

SANDOVAL GETS NEW CAMPAIGN CHIEF

As announcements go, this one was pretty low-key.

"I’ve just updated my professional profile on LinkedIn. Connect with me and view my profile," it said.

That’s how Jeremy Hughes announced on Twitter @jeremybhughes that he had taken the job as Gov. Brian Sandoval’s new campaign manager for the governor’s long-announced 2014 re-election bid.

Hughes’ Jan. 17 tweet was sent one day after Sandoval delivered his State of the State address to the Nevada Legislature, highlighting a $135 million boost in education and a focus on economic development and jobs.

Sandoval’s televised address served as an outline for the popular Republican governor’s agenda that he hopes will win him a second term. The Democratic-led Legislature convenes Feb. 4 and meets for 120 days to chew over his $6.55 billion biennial spending plan for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Stay tuned for what the legislative body spits out budget-wise and whether Sandoval gets his way in holding the line against any new taxes.

Hughes retweeted a key theme of Sandoval’s address, which the governor’s campaign Twitter account put out.

"We cannot cut our way out. We cannot tax our way out. We can only grow our way out," Sandoval said.

He was referring to the economic recession that hit in 2007 and from which the state is slowly recovering.

Mike Slanker, who is Sandoval’s political adviser, confirmed he hired Hughes to manage Sandoval’s campaign.

Previously, Hughes had worked as the political director of Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller’s successful 2012 campaign to maintain his Senate seat, which he had been appointed to the year before. Slanker, who serves as Heller’s top political adviser, had brought Hughes onboard the Heller campaign, too.

Following Hughes on Twitter, he appeared to be cozying up to the GOP faithful this past week.

On Wednesday, he slipped into a meeting of the Clark County Republican Party, an organization run by supporters of former presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. The Clark County regulars are constantly butting heads with GOP leaders, so Hughes was walking into the lion’s den.

On Friday night , he was in rural Nevada, braving freezing temperatures in the upper northeast.

"Just arrived at Elko Co Lincoln Day Dinner. Should be a great time at the Red Lion," Hughes tweeted.

– Laura Myers

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC. Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Contact Review-Journal reporter Laura Myers at 702 387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.

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