Muslim congressional candidate legally changed his name as he mulled a race for Rep. Joe Heck's seat

A congressional candidate who says Harry Reid told him he could not win because he is a Muslim petitioned to legally change his Muslim name shortly after he announced his candidacy.

Jesse Sbaih, who is seeking Rep. Joe Heck’s seat, was born Mahmoud Ismail Sbaih and filed a petition last November to officially change his name to “Jesse Mahmoud Ismail Sbaih,” records show. The petition was granted in January, ensuring his name would appear on the ballot as “Jesse Sbaih.”

Even though sources say Sbaih inquired as to how his name would appear on the ballot when he first began considering the race last fall, the Las Vegas lawyer told me he changed his name “because people had difficulty pronouncing my given name.”

Sbaih said he has nearly always been known as “Jesse” but he acknowedged, “I realize that there are people out there that may be hesitant about voting for me because I am an American Muslim." (Reid has denied raising Sbaih's religion, but I have confirmed the issue came up during the candidate's conversations with the senator and his staff.)

"Most, if not all, people know me as Jesse," he told me. "As a result, I added Jesse to my given name.  Among other things, the addition of Jesse to my given name helps people who know me identify me on the ballot."

Sbaih added that if he “somehow had concerns about being an American Muslim, I would not have discussed me being an American Muslim publicly.  I don't have any concerns nor should any Muslim or any person of faith have any concerns about who they are in the United States of America.  I am profoundly proud to be an American Muslim who has devoted his life to giving back to our great country and community and will continue to do so in Congress."

Sbaih, who did not discuss his religion publicly until he accused Reid of raising it, was born in Jordan to Palestinian refugee parents and was a Jordanian citizen when his family moved to the U.S. when he was 11. He is now a U.S. citizen.

Sbaih used the name “Jesse” in Nevada legal documents as far back as 2001, shortly after he arrived in the state. But he was registered to vote as “Mahmoud Ismail Sbaih” about a year later. Two months ago, he updated his voter registration to his new legal name, records show.

Sbaih continues to insist, as he did to me and The Washington Post and other media outlets, that Reid and his staff raised the issue of religion. But the timing of his name change might lead some people to believe that it was on his mind, too, as he considered a congressional bid.