Although Gov. Brian Sandoval is assured of re-election this year, the stakes are still high for the state’s Republican leader in Tuesday’s primary.
Sandoval’s pick to become lieutenant governor, state Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, faces a strong GOP challenge from Sue Lowden, a former state senator and failed U.S. Senate candidate in 2010.
Sandoval also is rooting for mainstream Republicans to do well against outsider candidates in three state Senate races to give the GOP a greater chance in its bid to retake control of the upper chamber, where Democrats now have 11 seats to 10 for Republicans.
Today’s ballot also includes a highly competitive GOP contest between Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite, whom Sandoval endorsed, and Niger Innis, a tea party conservative, for the 4th Congressional District which covers northern Clark County and six other rural counties.
In Clark County, the other top race to watch today is for sheriff to replace Doug Gillespie, who endorsed Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo. His chief opponents are retired Assistant Sheriff Ted Moody and retired Capt. Larry Burns, among nine people running for the four-year term. The top two vote getters will go on to the Nov. 4 general election.
Low voter turnout is making for more uncertainty in the outcome of key races. After early voting finished last Friday, the total pre-election day turnout was 11.15 percent statewide and 9.86 percent in Clark County. The record low primary turnout in 2008 was 18 percent statewide and just under 15 percent in Clark County and could be beat this year.
The most interesting race is for lieutenant governor, a part-time job focused mostly on tourism, transportation and economic development. The lieutenant governor also serves as president of the state Senate.
The lieutenant governor also would become governor if Sandoval doesn’t finish his full, four-year term and instead runs for the U.S. Senate in 2016 or accepts another judgeship or Cabinet post in a GOP White House administration. Sandoval, who faces four little-known GOP opponents Tuesday, has said he loves his job and plans to finish it.
Eight Democrats are vying for the right to take on Sandoval in November, but all are little known and ill-funded.
Ensuring Sandoval’s choice gets the No. 2 job could affect Sandoval’s decision-making about his and the state’s future. Also, a Hutchison victory could strengthen the GOP’s hand in facing Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, a Democrat who is expected to easily defeat her Democratic opponent, Harley Kulkin, in the lieutenant governor race.
“Lowden is certainly putting up a very dogged fight and represents herself as the ‘true conservative’ against Hutchison,” said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“If Lowden were to win, that would improve Flores’ chances. During this campaign Lowden has taken a hard right turn, and this would likely hurt her with nonpartisans in the general election.”
A Lowden win also could “energize Democrats who hold a considerable voter registration lead” in the state, Herzik added. “A Lowden win would also be a bit uncomfortable for Sandoval as Hutchison is his handpicked running mate.”
The lieutenant governor’s race is in many ways a proxy contest between Sandoval and U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is backing Flores and who is up for re-election in 2016 when the governor could take on the majority leader.
Election night, Sandoval plans to keep up with the results from afar because he is scheduled to be in Colorado today and Wednesday to become the new chairman of the Western Governors’ Association.
The closest race could be between Assemblyman Hardy and his tea party challenger Innis, a conservative civil rights activist. They’re competing for the right to take on freshman U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., in the fall. Horsford is expected to easily defeat his two Democratic foes, Mark Budetich and Sid Zeller.
Horsford is the favorite in the Nov. 4 general election, but Republicans are eyeing the 4th Congressional District as a possible pickup if Democrats don’t turn out to vote in force and Hardy wins the primary.
“Hardy is the stronger (Republican) candidate as he has run before, has better name recognition and would draw from all parts of the Republican coalition,” Herzik said. “If there was low turnout in November with lackluster (Democratic) enthusiasm, the Republican hopes for CD4 might come to pass.”
“Innis is more extreme and would likely not do as well with nonpartisans and even among rural voters,” he added.
The GOP primary in urban Las Vegas’ 1st Congressional District — which is 43 percent Hispanic — features a match-up between two Hispanic candidates, Jose Padilla and Dr. Annette Teijeiro.
The GOP winner, however, will face an uphill battle in the general election because registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about a 2-to-1 margin. Incumbent Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., faces token opposition in the Democratic primary from Herbert Peters.
In the state Senate, Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, is fighting for his job and for the GOP majority. His challenger is Carl Bunce, who ran the Nevada presidential campaign of former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.
The Democratic Party pick in Senate District 20, Teresa Lowry, doesn’t have a primary opponent.
Republicans would need to retain Roberson’s seat and the open Senate District 8 and pick up Senate District 9, now held by Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, to retake control of the Senate from Democrats. Jones is uncontested in the primary.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.