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Will Jacky Rosen’s Stint As Synagogue President Make Her A Better Senator?

When Nevada Senate candidate Jacky Rosen was thinking about running for Congress in 2016, she called her rabbi for advice.

“I thought about it and I thought about the skills necessary for someone to run for Congress,” Rabbi Sanford Akselrad of Congregation Ner Tamid, the largest Reform synagogue in Nevada, told the Forward. “I said to Jacky, ‘You know what, I think you can do it. You’re an excellent communicator, excellent fundraiser [and have a] vision for what would make our country better.’”

Rosen was then wrapping up a three-year term as president of the congregation serving over 600 families centered around the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson. Akselrad said she helped bring people together, saved the congregation hundreds of thousands of dollars by installing solar panels and has a “great sense of humor.”

The Nevada race is one of the most closely watched of the 2018 midterm elections.

Rosen is trying to oust incumbent Republican Sen. Dean Heller, who’s served since 2011, in a state Hillary Clinton carried by a little over 26,000 votes. If elected, she would become just the third Jewish woman ever to serve in the Senate, and first outside of California.

It’s a must-win race for Democrats if they are to reclaim a majority in the Senate, which is still seen as a long shot because they are defending more than two dozen seats, including 10 in states won by President Trump.

They need to pick up two seats to gain control. A 50-50 split would still give Republicans the edge since Vice President Mike Pence could cast a tie-breaking vote.

Jewish voters could play a key role in the Nevada race. They make up over a little over 1% of the state but comprise 5% of residents in Rosen’s district, more than double the national average.

“Jacky is the ultimate connector,” Akselrad said, adding that she honed her political skills while helping to run the synagogue. She groomed new leaders and always knew everyone’s name. During her tenure, the synagogue eliminated its executive director position, and she readjusted the staff accordingly.

Former Ner Tamid assistant rabbi Ruth Adar added that Rosen even provided crucial leadership and fiscal advice before her tenure as president, when the 2008 financial collapse particularly impacted the Las Vegas area.

“The members were challenged in just dreadful ways — people were just wiped out,” said Adar, who served the congregation from 2008 to 2010. “She kept everybody calm.”

Indeed, Rosen has been an effective fundraiser. Her Senate campaign brought in more than $7 million from July through the end of September, 95% of which came from people giving fewer than $100.

While Rosen has run a strong campaign, the race appears to have tightened.

A CNN poll done in late September had Rosen up four points.

But a more recent New York Times survey showed Heller clinging to a narrow lead. An Emerson College survey published Oct. 15 had him up seven points.

The two polls seems to follow a trend after the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings of the Senate moving away from Democrats while they continue to poll well in the House.

Trump has waded into the race, perhaps fearing Heller’s vulnerability, trying to label the Jewish candidate as “Wacky Jacky.” The president endorsed the Republican incumbent in late September and held a rally where he lauded Heller for changing from a strong critic to a supporter who voted for his Obamacare repeal plan after concessions were made to protect Medicaid expansion.

Heller has also garnered major donations from Las Vegas-based conservative Jewish megadonors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson.

Adelson gave $10,000 in June to the Nevada Republican Central Committee, according to FEC filings,

While Rosen is running as a congresswoman, her conversion to political leadership came somewhat later in life. She started her career as a computer programmer and worked as a waitress on weekends to pay the bills, according to her campaign website.

Rosen, who is married to a radiologist and has a daughter studying on a Fulbright Scholarship in England, later quit her job to help care for her elderly parents and in-laws, one of whom suffered from dementia, according to Akselrad, who added that she delayed serving as president of the synagogue while taking care of them.

“She was very close to her mother-in-law and that was very sad,” Akselrad said.

Rosen has been a strong advocate for the Affordable Care Act. She introduced a House resolution to defend coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

Congregant Fay Schoenfeld, 86, agreed with the rabbi’s assessment of Rosen’s interpersonal skills, adding that she always asked after her husband when he was having issues with his kidneys.

“She was always very caring toward elderly people,” Schoenfeld, who has been a member for 20 years, told the Forward on Oct. 9. “Anytime you ever spoke with her she always listened no matter who it was. Even today, she still listens to people.”

Contact Ben Fractenberg at [email protected]

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