Nevada’s Ruben Kihuen takes center stage at Democratic convention

PHILADELPHIA — So this is what the national stage looks like.

The scene that confronted Nevada state Sen. Ruben Kihuen on Thursday was daunting: Striding out from the wings onto the stage of the Democratic National Convention, toward a lonely podium on the lip of a circular stage ringed with stars.

In front of him were arrayed thousands of people, on the floor, in three levels of stands that wrapped nearly all the way around the Wells Fargo Center, not to mention a bank of television cameras behind a big-screen teleprompter, broadcasting his image and words to an audience of millions.

“I was excited,” Kihuen said after his speech and a round of local TV interviews. “A little anxious. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous.”

Who wouldn’t be: Kihuen was following such convention stars as first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, while standing on the exact spot where President Barack Obama wowed the crowd on Wednesday night.

On Thursday, it was Kihuen’s turn at the podium.

He told a story familiar to his constituents back home: how he came to America as an immigrant at age 8; how his mother — a Culinary union member — worked to provide for their family; how he learned English in public schools and went on to a career in politics.

Kihuen’s star turn on the stage comes partly as result of his friendship with Hillary Clinton. Kihuen campaigned with her in Las Vegas’ Latino neighborhoods in 2008, and he has been with her ever since. “We have a personal friendship that dates back years,” Kihuen said. “We both have the same vision for America.”

That friendship gave Kihuen’s opponent, U.S. Rep. Cresent Hardy, a tailor-made opening to attack. Hardy’s campaign noted Kihuen didn’t confront his friend Clinton about what the FBI director called “extremely careless” handling of emails during her tenure as secretary of state.

But how realistic is it to expect Kihuen to use his few moments on the Democratic stage to reprimand Clinton? (Kihuen maintains Clinton’s actions were “inappropriate” but not illegal.) And while Hardy has condemned Trump’s attack on a Hispanic judge who is presiding over a lawsuit involving the billionaire, he skipped his own party’s convention in Cleveland, although he has allowed that his absence “doesn’t mean I’m not supporting Donald Trump.”

For Kihuen, any risks about being linked to Clinton’s negatives were far outweighed by the opportunity to quite literally take center stage. “I’m humbled and honored to be on that stage that represents the pinnacle of Democratic politics,” he said. The honor shows that his party is committed to ousting Hardy and returning the 4th Congressional District to Democratic hands after the red tide of 2014, he said.

“They’re (Democrats) not taking it for granted,” Kihuen added. “Cresent Hardy’s days in Congress are numbered.”

Whether he’s right is a question for November. But as for right now, Kihuen has had a view of national politics that others only rarely see.

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

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