Nevada congressional contenders build up hefty war chests

Democratic U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley raised more money than Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller for their Senate campaigns in the first three months of 2012, although the two contenders each have more than $4 million in cash to spend as their close contest kicks into high gear.

Among congressional contenders, U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., is the $1 million man with that much in the bank, more than twice as much as his likely Democratic opponent, Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, who nonetheless raised more in the quarter.

In the race for the state's newest House seat in Southern Nevada, Republican Danny Tarkanian by far out-paced his GOP opponents, raising $344,000 in the quarter, handily beating the haul by the only Democratic contender, state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, as well. Horsford, however, overall has more money in his campaign coffers.

Six weeks before early voting starts ahead of the June 12 primary, the fundraising reports from Jan. 1 through March 31 show top contenders in the most competitive races piling up hefty war chests that, in some cases, are meant to help carry them through the Nov. 6 general election.

Berkley raised $1.36 million in the first quarter compared with $1.07 million for Heller. The two ended up close in cash on hand as well: $4.41 million for Berkley and $4.27 million for Heller.

Here's a look at the two most competitive Southern Nevada congressional races:


In the battle for the new seat, Tarkanian used his donor list from three previous failed campaigns and his name recognition to lead fundraising in the first quarter. He raised $344,000 and ended the quarter with $294,000 cash on hand, putting him far ahead of his closest GOP primary rivals.

State Sen. Barbara Cegavske raised a disappointing $93,600 and ended the quarter with nearly $75,000 cash on hand. Las Vegas businessman Dan Schwartz raised a paltry $7,535 during the quarter and loaned himself $100,000 to keep his coffers filled, ending with $116,000 cash on hand.

Cegavske's campaign adviser Ryan Erwin acknowledged the senator is the underdog, but he noted retail campaigning counts in the district that covers parts of Clark, Lyon and five rural counties.

"Barbara knew going in she would be outspent," Erwin said. "The question is do voters in the primary want a conservative or not. If they do, Barbara's their candidate."

Tarkanian's political adviser, Tim Williams, said the campaign isn't dismissing Cegavske as a primary threat, although Tarkanian is confident of victory given his fundraising and leading position in polls.

"I believe Danny will be able to pull this race off," Williams said, referring to the general election. "We're not taking the primary for granted, but you have to look at how much money he raised."

Tarkanian's money came from a wide range of sources, including $2,500 each from his parents, former University of Nevada, Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, whom he once played for, and Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian, a Democrat.

Tarkanian also got support from GOP insiders such as former Nevada first lady Dema Guinn, $1,500; former U.S. Rep. Jon Porter, $500; adviser Sig Rogich, $1,000; and the late state Sen. Bill Raggio and his wife, Dale, $250 each. The conservative Cegavske opposed Raggio on tax increases .

From gaming, Tarkanian won support from the M Resort's Anthony Marnell III, $2,500; John Ascuaga, $1,000; William Boyd, $1,000; and several Ceasars Entertainment executives.

On Monday, Tarkanian announced he had hired several top GOP operatives, including pollster Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Jim Innocenzi, a media strategist who had worked for former Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons and advised Texas Gov. Rick Perry's presidential campaign.

Cegavske had a few impressive donors, including former U.S. Rep. Barbara Vucanovich, $100; Michael Gaughan of South Point hotel-casino, $2,500; and conservative Las Vegas businessman and frequent GOP donor Bill Brady and his wife, Cynthia, $2,500 each.

Tellingly, Cegavske is spending a lot of money to target specific voters with only 17 percent to 18 percent of Republicans expected to turn out for the primary. So far, she has paid Billy Rogers' company, Advanced Micro Targeting, more than $72,000, according to her spending report.

The lone Democrat in the race, Horsford, is racking up a lot of cash, a total of $464,000 in the bank, after raising nearly $265,000 in the first quarter. The money boosts his advantage in the district, where he has a Democratic voter registration edge of 9 percentage points over Republicans.

Most of Horsford's donations came from unions, prominent Democrats and gaming interests, particularly MGM properties, whose executives gave him more than $19,000 in the past quarter. Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid's Searchlight Leadership Fund has donated the maximum $10,000.

The late Sen. Raggio also donated $500 to Horsford. Raggio, a moderate who opposed anti-tax conservatives, had angered his party in 2010 by backing Reid for re-election to the Senate.


Heck raised more than $278,000 in the first three months of the year, keeping up a healthy fundraising pace that left him with more than $1 million in his campaign coffers.

Most of Heck's money came from small-business leaders and fellow physicians as well as defense industry interests. He also got plenty of donations from gaming, including from Circus Circus, M Resorts and more than a dozen MGM executives who contributed a total of about $11,500.

Oceguera's healthy $373,000 fundraising quarter expanded his bank account to a total of $479,000 in cash. The donations were fueled mostly by big union groups and more than two dozen Democratic colleagues in the Nevada Legislature or in Washington.

Reid's Searchlight Fund maxed out to Oceguera at $10,000. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., donated another $2,000 as national Democrats look to take back the swing district.

Former U.S. Rep. Dina Titus contributed $2,000 more to Oceguera, too. She is running in a safe Democratic House district, hoping to replace Berkley in 2012. Titus lost to Heck in 2010.

Titus, who has no Democratic competition and weak GOP foes, raised nearly $245,000 in the first quarter, leaving her with $414,000 cash on hand. She is expected to use some of that money to help her fellow Democrats across the country as they try to retake control of the House from the GOP.

Contact Laura Myers at or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.