Monday, May 30, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Political newcomers are trying to turn a Republican-held southern Nevada swing congressional district back to Democratic hands.
The Democratic candidates seeking the 3rd Congressional District seat include a synagogue leader favored by Sen. Harry Reid, and an attorney defined recently by a flap with the powerful lawmaker.
The seat is being vacated by Rep. Joe Heck, who is running for the U.S. Senate.
A look at the leading Democrats:
Her rabbi didn't expect Jacky Rosen to run for Congress, even though she had run many of the day-to-day operations at Nevada's largest Reform Jewish congregation during her three years as the synagogue president.
But Rabbi Sanford Akselrad described Rosen as a master networker who improved the finances of Ner Tamid synagogue in Henderson and ushered in a money-saving rooftop solar installation while holding the volunteer post.
"She has passion. She's an articulate, selfless person, extremely bright," said Akselrad, who has known Rosen for about a quarter century. "She's not in it for her own personal ego. She's there to help the temple."
Reid recruited and endorsed political newcomer Rosen to run as a Democrat in Nevada's 3rd Congressional District after several others turned down a bid. Heck, a Republican, has held the seat for three consecutive terms, even though the southern Nevada district is split almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats.
With Heck leaving to run for U.S. Senate, the open seat has attracted a feisty, attack ad-lobbing Republican primary field and a much more subdued Democratic race.
Part of that reflects the personal style of Rosen, who often talks about collaboration in answering policy questions.
"There's an inner warmth in her that projects to people she's speaking to," said former Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley, who served seven terms in Congress and attends Rosen's synagogue.
Born and raised in Chicago, Rosen graduated high school at 16 and attended the University of Minnesota. Her parents moved to Las Vegas while she was in college, and she spent summers in Nevada waiting tables as a member of the powerful Culinary Workers Union, which recently endorsed her.
Rosen followed her parents west in 1980 and started working as a computer programmer for major companies including Citibank. She met her husband, Larry Rosen, on a blind date, and they'll celebrate their 23rd wedding anniversary in August. He's a radiologist who works at the Veterans Administration.
On policy matters, she's against the Iran agreement, supports a $15 hourly minimum wage and says she supports the Affordable Care Act but thinks the bugs need to be worked out.
She caucused for Hillary Clinton in February.
Asked why she's running for office, Rosen says it's the right time. She has taken care of her parents and in-laws, who have since passed away, and her daughter is now off at college. "I had the opportunity to speak up and it was time to do it," Rosen said.
Born in Jordan, Sbaih immigrated to the United States at 11 and settled into Chesapeake, Virginia, with his schoolteacher mother and lawyer father. He said he was touched by the kindness of Americans who gave him his first job as a restaurant dishwasher at 12 and helped him learn English.
He has long wanted to try politics, saying he hopes to give back to his adopted country. At the University of Miami, he majored in economics and political science.
Sbaih came to Nevada in 2001, after law school, to clerk for the late Nevada Supreme Court Justice Cliff Young. He started a solo law practice in 2006 and has since added a partner at the firm, which mainly handles personal injury cases.
"He's tenacious, he's smart and such a hard worker," said attorney Christian Gabroy, who shares office space with Sbaih. "He's by nature a fighter. He's one of these David vs. Goliath types."
Sbaih's wife, Sameera, now works as a primary care doctor in Las Vegas. They have three children — a 12-year-old son and two daughters, ages 9 and 4.
On policy issues, he calls for a $15 minimum wage, a single-payer health care system and free college for students who achieve at least a 3.0 GPA.
Sbaih's candidacy has recently come to be defined by a rupture with Reid that came to light this spring. Sbaih said he'd worked with associates of the senator but in a personal meeting with Reid last year, was told a Muslim like himself could not win the race. Reid's advisers don't deny religion came up during the discussion, but they deny it was the reason they told him he couldn't win.
Sbaih has allied himself with Bernie Sanders, criticizing Rosen for taking money from a Reid-backed PAC and sending out fundraising emails declaring "I cannot be bought." While the most recent federal reports show he has more campaign money than Reid-backed Rosen, most of that is in loans to himself.
The weightiest Democratic endorsements in the race, including ones from the AFL-CIO and electrical workers union, have gone to Rosen. In an interview, he said he's disappointed that powerful Democratic leaders have endorsed in the primary, "choosing between their children" and hampering his campaign.
"The party doesn't get to choose a candidate. The people get to choose," he said.
Others in the field
Four other Democrats who are in the race haven't built war chests on par with those of Sbaih and Rosen. Alex Singer reported about $2,200 at the end of March, while candidates Neil Waite, Steven Schiffman and Barry Michaels haven't reported any campaign money to the Federal Election Commission.