Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen, dogged by multiple accounts of sexual harassment over the last two weeks, announced Saturday that he won’t run for re-election in 2018.
The decision comes just a day after the House Ethics Committee announced it was opening an investigation into the allegations against Kihuen and as the freshman Democrat faced renewed calls to step down from party leaders nationally and in the state. Kihuen told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he denied the allegations, but that they would distract from any re-election campaign.
“I want to state clearly again that I deny the allegations in question,” Kihuen said. “I am committed to fully cooperating with the House Ethics Committee and look forward to clearing my name.”
“Therefore, it is in the best interests of my family and my constituents to complete my term in Congress and not seek re-election,” he said in the statement.
The allegations against Kihuen began with a story earlier this month by BuzzFeed, which interviewed the congressman’s former campaign finance director, a woman named Samantha, who said she quit her job after the then-candidate propositioned her for dates and sex despite repeated rejections.
Samantha, who has asked to keep her last name anonymous, told The Nevada Independent on Saturday via text message that it’s “insulting” Kihuen continues to deny the harassment allegations.
“The tone of his apology after the Buzzfeed article on December 1 was basically ‘I’m sorry if I did anything to make her uncomfortable’ as though I’m the problem for being upset by his behavior,” she wrote.
Another woman told The Nevada Independent earlier this week that Kihuen made persistent, unwanted sexual advances in person and over hundreds of text and Facebook messages during his time as a state senator, including asking the lobbyist to sit on his lap in the middle of a committee hearing.
A third woman, who worked at the front desk of Kihuen’s Las Vegas condo, told BuzzFeed that Kihuen repeatedly texted her “repeated, inappropriate advances” in text messages, leading the woman to block his number and avoid him while at work.
Kihuen has either not responded to or said he didn’t recall the allegations, while alleging Democratic leaders including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi knew about the first set of allegations.
“Due process and the presumption of innocence are bedrock legal principles which have guided our nation for centuries, and they should not be lost to unsubstantiated hearsay and innuendo,” Kihuen said in his statement to the Review-Journal.
Multiple Democrats, including Pelosi, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Ben Ray Lujan and fellow Nevadans Rep. Jacky Rosen and Senator Dean Heller have called on Kihuen to step down.
In a statement, Rosen reiterated her belief that the allegations were “serious and well-documented,” and said she was glad he would not run for reelection.
“While I’ve called on him to resign, I’m glad for the sake of his constituents that he’s made the decision to cooperate with the ethics investigation process and not to seek re-election next year,” she said.
Kihuen’s decision also opens up a slightly Democratic-leaning House seat that includes much of urban North Las Vegas and large swaths of rural central Nevada. Kihuen, 37, defeated Republican incumbent Rep. Cresent Hardy to win back the seat for Democrats in 2016 on a 49 to 45 percent margin.
Hardy told The Nevada Independent earlier this month that he was considering running for the seat again in light of the new allegations against Kihuen. Las Vegas city councilman Stavros Anthony has also launched a bid for the seat.
The most recent voter registration statistics show Democrats with 152,494 voters in the district, compared to 115,828 registered Republicans — good for a 42 to 32 percent margin of difference.
It’s unclear which Democrats will attempt to replace Kihuen, though former Rep. Steven Horsford and state Sens. Yvanna Cancela and Pat Spearman have all been mentioned as possible replacements.
In a statement, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Meredith Kelly guaranteed that Democrats would continue to hold the congressional seat.
“This is a fundamentally Democratic district, which will be all but impossible for Republicans to overcome when combined with their inability to recruit strong candidates, the overwhelming grassroots energy behind Democrats, and their cruel, anti-middle class agenda,” she said.
Megan Messerly contributed to this story.
Updated at 8:12 p.m. to include statements from Rep. Jacky Rosen and the DCCC.