It was a brutal night for incumbents Tuesday, as Nevada's primary election swept several legislators and judges clean out of office.
Three Republican lawmakers and two embattled Clark County judges lost their positions in the low-turnout contest as those voters who showed up -- the fewest of any election in at least 12 years -- appeared to prefer new blood.
Yet the biggest incumbent of all, state Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio of Reno, remained standing, pulling out a close Republican primary race against Sharron Angle, a former assemblywoman who mounted a challenge from the right.
Raggio held off Angle by just 548 votes, winning 53 percent of the primary vote to Angle's 47 percent.
Not as fortunate were Assemblywoman Francis Allen of Las Vegas and Assemblyman Bob Beers of Henderson, both of whom lost Republican primaries after falling out of favor with their party's base.
A third Assembly member, John Marvel of Battle Mountain, also lost a Republican primary, beaten by a former lawmaker, Don Gustavson, 34 percent to 29 percent.
Two judges who face accusations of misconduct also reaped voters' wrath. District Court Judge Elizabeth Halverson and Family Court Judge Nicholas Del Vecchio both came in third in their primaries, meaning they won't go on to the November runoffs between the top two candidates.
The only statewide contest on the ballot, the race for an open seat on the state Supreme Court, came down to the wire Tuesday night, with Kris Pickering and Deborah Schumacher emerging as the top two vote-getters who will go on to compete in November.
Without higher-profile contests to be decided, the primary was marked by turnout that officials said could be a record low. Going back at least to 1996, no even-year primary election has seen such a lack of voter interest.
In Clark County, total turnout was just under 15 percent, down from typical primary turnout of around 25 percent in most years.
Many voters on Election Day said they were motivated to turn out to cast an anti-vote, with Halverson frequently mentioned.
"I wanted to make sure my vote didn't go to Halverson," said Fran Pierce, 62, the first voter at a southwest Las Vegas polling place Tuesday morning.
Others echoed her view. Mary Thompson, 48, said that was her reason for voting: "Get rid of a couple of them, hopefully," she said.
Joe Beal, 38, said he was particularly interested in the judicial races and lamented the low turnout. "It would be great if it were a higher percentage, but folks don't pay attention," he said.
Political watchers had predicted confusion at the polls because of a state Supreme Court decision on term limits that came down just before early voting began two weeks ago, but in the most prominent race affected by the decision, that proved not to be the case.
Longtime Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury, ruled ineligible for re-election because of a new interpretation of the term limits provision in the state constitution, lost the Republican primary to Brian Scroggins, a businessman and former secretary of state candidate.
Had Woodbury won, the Clark County Republican Party would have been tasked with selecting the party's nominee in the race, a potentially contentious process.
Two other candidates affected by the decision, Clark County School Board members Ruth Johnson and Mary Beth Scow, came in first and second, respectively, in their nonpartisan primaries, while term-limited Reno University Regent Howard Rosenberg came in second in his, meaning that if not for term limits, all would have advanced to the general election.
In those races, the term-limited candidates will simply be passed over for the next-highest vote getters.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, political scientist David Damore said the primary showed a low tolerance among voters for any hint of misbehavior on the part of elected officials.
"I think the electorate's pretty fed up," he said.
He noted that while few saw the election as worth their time, it changed the face of the state Legislature and in many cases probably determined who will go to Carson City for the next legislative session in 2009.
The districts of Raggio, Marvel and Allen are all heavily Republican, meaning the winners of those primaries are heavily favored to win in November. Beers' district may be more competitive because of changing demographics.
Meanwhile, Damore said, Woodbury's loss in the County Commission race shows that the few who did vote were people who pay attention to such things.
In partisan primaries, he noted, the ideologically driven base voters are the ones who tend to come out, giving candidates who are hard-right or hard-left an edge over moderates. That appeared to be the case in the Assembly ousters, but it was a factor Raggio was able to overcome.
Angle, the sponsor of a property-tax limiting ballot initiative who lost a close congressional primary to Rep. Dean Heller two years ago, "is a known commodity up there, but Raggio had enough good will built up from all he's done over the years," Damore said. "And he worked his butt off."
Allen, a two-term member of the lower house, had been in the headlines for a domestic violence charge, based on an incident in which her newlywed husband told police she stabbed him with a kitchen knife. The charge was dropped after he recanted.
Beers, a first-termer who shares his name with a fiscally conservative Las Vegas state senator and former Republican gubernatorial candidate, faced charges from the party faithful that he wasn't a true conservative, especially after he allied himself with labor in a casino dealers' unionization battle.
Both lost by wide margins. Allen came in second out of four candidates, bested by Richard McArthur, a retired FBI agent, 47 percent to 24 percent. Beers lost a two-way primary to casino administrator Jon Ozark, 69 percent to 31 percent.
Judicial Discipline Commission hearings on Halverson began last week, hearing evidence that she fell asleep on the bench, created a hostile work environment and communicated improperly with jurors, charges she has denied. The proceedings are scheduled to continue this week.
She got just 10 percent of the vote, finishing well behind Stefany Miley, with 60 percent, and Jason Landess, who had 30 percent.
Del Vecchio is the subject of pending discipline commission charges, with allegations that include sexually harassing staff, using racial slurs and having sex with his ex-wife's 14-year-old daughter.
He came in third of four candidates with 23 percent of the vote; Vincent Ochoa, with 32 percent, and Cynthia Giuliani, with 31 percent, will advance to the runoff.
"These are people who have had nothing nice said about them for a while, and apparently people had enough," Damore said of Halverson and Del Vecchio.
The primary also set up general-election contests for Nevada's three House of Representatives seats, where all three incumbents won primaries, and for an open seat on the Clark County Commission.
Review-Journal writer Richard Lake contributed to this report. Contact reporter Molly Ball at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919.