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Politics Democrat Jacky Rosen wins key Nevada Senate seat

Democrat Jacky Rosen beat her Republican opponent Dean Heller in the Nevada Senate race early Wednesday morning.

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Rep. Jacky Rosen. play

Rep. Jacky Rosen.

(AP Photo/John Locher)

Democrat Jacky Rosen beat her Republican opponent Dean Heller in the Nevada Senate race — a swing state with a history of sending moderates to Washington.

The race was a key target for Democrats in their uphill battle to take control of the Senate. Heller, a first-term senator and former congressman who has spent three decades in politics, was widely viewed as the GOP's most vulnerable incumbent in the chamber.

Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the state in 2016 by 2.4 percentage points, while Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto was elected by a similar margin. Obama won the state by 6.7 points in 2012.

Heller angered the GOP's increasingly right-wing base when he refused to endorse Trump's version of a border wall, criticized the president's pardon of former Maricopa county Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and said he had "no problem" funding Planned Parenthood (despite his record of voting to end federal reimbursements to the healthcare provider).

Heller also changed his position on the Affordable Care Act, initially opposing the GOP's Obamacare repeal efforts citing cuts to Medicaid. But during a tough primary challenge from the right and attacks from Trump, he supported a Republican Obamacare replacement that would have dramatically reduced federal funding for Medicaid in the long term.

Rosen, the former president of one of the largest synagogues in Nevada, was recruited to run for office by former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who in 2016 convinced Rosen run for an open House seat in a southern Nevada district that simultaneously went for Trump. Rosen won the seat by just 1.2 points, or 4,000 votes.

The congresswoman framed herself as a moderate, touting her membership in the House Problem Solvers Caucus – a group of centrists seeking bipartisan agreement — and has voted with Trump 41 percent of the time, placing her among the dozen or so most conservative Democrats in the chamber.

Nevada has grown increasingly diverse in recent years and immigrants move into the state, and more left-leaning as major companies like Tesla and Google set up offices there, balancing out the state's conservative base in the rural north of the state.

Trump, whose approval rating in Nevada is seven points under water according to recent polling, had campaigned for Heller and targeted Rosen with the nickname "Wacky Jacky." (Trump's approval rating in Nevada dropped about five points between January 2017 and October 2018, and his disapproval numbers jumped from 39 percent to 51 percent in the same period.)

The state saw enormous turnout — double the number of early voters got to the polls this year than did in the 2014 midterm elections, which also dwarfed the total voters in 2014. Three days before Election Day, 40 percent of the state's registered voters had already cast their ballots, compared to just 25.4 percent in 2014. And Democrats turned out in bigger numbers than Republicans.

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