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Erin Bilbray is hoping 2014 is the year of the woman

It’s all about the women.

That’s the message from Erin Bilbray’s campaign for Congress, which this week has already seen two high-profile events designed to boost what was up until now a largely sub rosa campaign.

First, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., was the star attraction at a small town-hall style gathering Monday at the Nevada Democratic Party’s headquarters. The event aimed to boost the candidacies of Bilbray, as well as Rep. Dina Titus (who is a lock for re-election) and Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, who faces a harder campaign against state Sen. Mark Hutchison for lieutenant governor.

Wasserman Schultz said it’s “absolutely critical” that Bilbray, Titus and Flores get elected (or re-elected, as the case may be), in part because they better understand issues such as equal pay for equal work, health care and access to contraceptives and the like.

I asked Bilbray after the event if the race for 3rd Congressional District — where she faces Republican incumbent Rep. Joe Heck — would really turn on gender issues. She said it would come down to “middle class” issues, another Democratic 2014 theme, but mentioned three that are particularly potent among female voters: equal pay, family leave and education.

On Tuesday, Bilbray was again feted at a “Women for Bilbray” breakfast event held at a Las Vegas law firm, where Wasserman Schultz announced a $1,000 donation and made a bold prediction: “It is absolutely clear and key: With the women vote, Erin will win,” Wasserman Schultz said, according to a report by the Review-Journal’s Laura Myers. “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.”

Another young mom might be slightly misleading: If elected, Bilbray would be Nevada’s only young mom in the federal delegation, which is dominated by men (U.S. Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller, and Reps. Mark Amodei, Steven Horsford, Heck and Titus.)

Let’s keep in mind an important thing: Wasserman Schultz and Bilbray aren’t exactly strangers. Bilbray is the Democratic National Committeewoman for Nevada, and voted for Wasserman Schultz to become chairwoman. And Bilbray was in the business of training Democratic women to run for office before jumping in to the 3rd District race herself last year.

The Woman Thing has cropped up in this district before, as Heck has had to consistently defend himself from charges that he’s anti-woman. It began during his legislative career, when he voted against a mandate for some Nevada insurance companies to cover a vaccine for the HPV virus, saying mandates drive up the cost of health insurance. And he’s been dogged on votes over Planned Parenthood funding and equal pay. It’s an issue that was unavailable to Democrats two years ago, when former Assembly Speaker John Oceguera ran unsuccessfully against Heck.

Bilbray’s other big star player this week isn’t another woman, but instead somebody who can target those middle-class voters that Bilbray says she wants: Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak at a rally for her campaign in Henderson.

Biden is a huge draw for Democrats, even if polls show he’s the No. 2 favorite among party members for a 2016 presidential run, behind former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (Clinton is also coming to Las Vegas, later this year, for a controversial fundraising dinner for the UNLV Foundation. What are the odds she may drop Bilbray’s name in her Oct. 13 remarks, shortly before early voting begins?)

Again, Biden isn’t a stranger to Bilbray; during the fight over the Affordable Care Act, Bilbray and her daughters appeared in a video “letter to President Obama” supporting the passage of health care reform, including contraceptive coverage that was just truncated by the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case. Bilbray opposed that ruling, while Heck called it reasonable.

A political difference? A gender difference? A class difference? Maybe all three.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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