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GOP lawmaker Heidi Kasama drops out of congressional race against Susie Lee

Kasama will instead seek re-election to her Las Vegas-area Assembly seat. It comes as Republicans seek to block a Democratic legislative supermajority.
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
Tabitha Mueller
Tabitha Mueller
Election 2024ElectionsLegislature

Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama (R-Las Vegas) — an establishment-backed Republican challenging Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) in Congressional District 3 — announced Thursday that she will drop out of the race in order to run for re-election to her Assembly seat. 

The surprise move comes as a blow for House Republicans, who have long targeted Lee’s seat as one of the top pickup opportunities among Nevada’s three competitive congressional districts. 

“A victory in CD3 would be hollow if the governor was left without his veto ability, and we know how critical that is for our state,” Kasama said in a phone interview Thursday.

Since announcing her candidacy in August, Kasama said D.C. leadership has been very supportive but after speaking with her family, constituents and Gov. Joe Lombardo, she realized she is needed in the Legislature. 

Kasama’s exit is a boon to Lee, who has won by narrow margins in three successive elections. Kasama is a proven fundraiser from her time in the Legislature with the backing of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Lombardo.

A national source familiar with the race who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Republicans are not concerned that flipping the district is out of reach, but rather that Kasama was unable to make the leap from fundraising for a state legislative race to a congressional one. (Federal races have lower maximum donation limits than state races). Federal campaign finance reports for the last three months of 2023 will be released on Jan. 31.

Other announced GOP candidates in Congressional District 3 include former state Sen. Elizabeth Helgelien and policy analyst Drew Johnson. Kasama had raised over $300,000 through the third quarter of 2023, while Helgelien and Johnson had about $50,000 and $100,000 in cash on hand, respectively. Kasama said she does not plan to endorse a candidate in the primary.

In a statement, Johnson said Kasama’s exit indicates that his campaign is “on the right track” but still expects the primary to be competitive.

Kasama’s exit leaves Republican leadership in Nevada and in Washington without a handpicked candidate and positions Lee, with more than $1 million in cash on hand, as by far the best-funded candidate in the race. Had she won the primary, she would have been Lee’s first opponent with political experience.

National Republican Campaign Committee spokesperson Ben Petersen said the party still expects Lee to lose and that “Republicans are full speed ahead to flip this seat as the political environment continues to worsen for extreme Democrat Susie Lee.” 

A Democratic source familiar with the race said while they believe the district is still in play, a strong candidate — which the race now lacks — would have made Lee’s re-election effort more expensive and challenging.

Kasama said keeping control of Assembly District 2 is a “critical seat” in Republican efforts to avoid a Democratic supermajority heading into the next legislative session. The district has a fairly even split among major party groups, with 30 percent of voters registered as Democrats, 31 percent registered as Republicans and 32 percent registered as nonpartisan.

Democrats hold a 28-seat supermajority in the 42-member Assembly and a 13-seat majority in the 21-member Senate — just one seat shy of another supermajority. Flipping one Senate seat and maintaining a hold on existing Assembly seats would hand Democrats the power to override Lombardo’s vetoes in next year’s legislative session, just two years after the governor set the record for vetoes in 2023. 

However — even after legislative Democrats redrew district maps in their favor in 2021 — Democratic margins in the Assembly remain in flux, amid an exodus of sitting lawmakers who have bowed out of re-election bids. That includes five Assembly Democrats who have announced they will leave the Legislature altogether, and another four who have announced campaigns for other seats. 

So far, only one other Republican has announced a bid for Kasama’s Assembly District 2: Clark County Republican Chair Jesse Law, a fixture of the county GOP and one of six so-called “fake electors” criminally charged by Nevada’s Democratic attorney general over the 2020 scheme to keep former President Donald Trump in power.

The Democratic source said Kasama’s decision indicates Lombardo must be increasingly concerned about the potential for a Democratic supermajority in both chambers rendering his governorship irrelevant — and that he was worried about holding Assembly District 2 if Law is the candidate. 

Asked whether she plans to run for Congress in the future, Kasama demurred, saying she is focused on her legislative election.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

This story was updated at 2:30 p.m. on 1/4/24 to correct the FEC filing deadline.


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