PARTY LINES: 4 takeaways from the primary election
Gov. Steve Sisolak passes his first test, Joe Lombardo needs to shore up his support and Danny Tarkanian loses again.
The final numbers for Nevada’s primary election won’t be known until Tuesday, as outstanding mail ballots come in and are counted. But enough is known about the primary to draw some lessons, and look ahead to the general election Nov. 8.
Here are four takeaways from Nevada’s 2022 primary:
1. Gov. Steve Sisolak passes his first test: When Sisolak appointed political unknown Lisa Cano Burkhead as his lieutenant governor in December, many people were surprised. Why not give a leg up to a candidate such as term-limited Henderson Mayor Debra March, who was far more well known and well funded?
Now we know: Cano Burkhead won the primary election going away, 57 percent to 24 percent, a margin of more than 46,000 votes statewide. Cano Burkhead, in fact, collected more than twice as many votes as March, nearly 20,000 votes more than the rest of the ballots in the race combined.
This was the first opportunity Nevada Democrats had to grade the performance of their party’s titular chief. Would they endorse his decision, or disagree? Overwhelmingly, they endorsed it.
Or maybe all those voters got caught in a ridiculous traffic jam on Green Valley Parkway, outside March’s signature Dollar Loan Center, waiting impatiently for the chance to pay for parking in a previously free lot to see an event at an arena named for a payday lender?
Still, a victory for Sisolak.
2. Joe Lombardo has not unified the party yet: While Lombardo won the primary with 38 percent of the vote in a 15-candidate field, he didn’t win everywhere. According to vote tallies on Friday, Lombardo won Clark, Nye, Lincoln, Douglas and Washoe counties, but lost all the others, either to Reno attorney Joey Gilbert or former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller.
In fact, Lombardo was running third in seven counties as of Friday: Carson City, Churchill, Esmeralda, Humboldt, Lander, Pershing and White Pine. Gilbert won 11 counties, and Heller won Esmeralda, although vote tallies there were close and could change as mail ballots are received and counted.
One could look at the numbers two ways: In the first, Republicans angry that their candidate didn’t win refuse to unite behind Lombardo, and either stay home or cast a ballot for the Libertarian or Independent American Party candidate, those with no political party, or “none of these candidates.”
That perspective is bolstered by Gilbert’s refusal to concede. He hinted at a lawsuit in a Facebook live video, contending that the results in certain counties (especially Douglas and Washoe, Gilbert’s home county) don’t make sense. The longer that goes on, the harder it will be for Lombardo to unify the Republican Party behind his candidacy.
The second way to view the results is oppositional: Republicans may say that they preferred Gilbert or Heller or another of the GOP candidates, but now that the primary is over and Lombardo is the winner, they will back him because in their minds Lombardo is superior to Sisolak. (Gilbert himself said exactly that in his video.)
Naturally, the Lombardo camp would prefer the second view. Meanwhile, Sisolak is preparing a massive “air war” ad blitz to bury Lombardo on TV; the campaign announced it had reserved $6 million in airtime for the fall.
3. The Force is strong with this one: In addition to Cano Burkhead, a few other candidates came out of the gate strong in the primary, with implications for the general.
Adam Laxalt, for example, won every county but Douglas in his primary against veteran Sam Brown, who raised a ton of money and had Laxalt spending on endorsement TV ads as the primary came to a close. Having former President Donald Trump’s backing did not hurt Laxalt, and having the Nevada Republican Party’s backing did not help Brown.
Attorney April Becker turned away five challengers in her primary for the 3rd Congressional District handily, coming away with 65 percent of the vote. In November, she will face Rep. Susie Lee, who led all congressional candidates with 89.6 percent of the vote, albeit against a single challenger.
Incumbent Rep. Dina Titus earned 81 percent in her primary with progressive challenger Amy Vilela. The Vilela campaign made sense before the Legislature re-drew the congressional districts in once-a-decade redistricting; in fact, a primary in the old 1st District may have been the only way Vilela could have won the seat. But once the lines were redrawn, Vilela’s chances plummeted.
Titus will face Republican Mark Robertson in the general in the new district.
And District Attorney Steve Wolfson handily won his primary, 58.5 percent to 41.5 percent over defense lawyer and ex-Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo. Wolfson benefited from a climate where voters are concerned about crime; even voters in liberal San Francisco recalled their progressive district attorney!
4. No, thank you: Danny Tarkanian ran for, and lost, six races for various offices while living in Clark County, before moving to Douglas County and barely winning a county commission seat in 2020. But his real goal has always been to get to Washington, D.C., so in the middle of his first commission term, he filed to run for Congress in the 2nd District.
And lost. Again. In every county in the district.
Incumbent Rep. Mark Amodei earned 54.5 percent of the vote to Tarkanian’s 33 percent, a gap of more than 16,000 votes. Having an actual opponent was a new thing for Congressman-for-Life Amodei, who has ruled the district for a decade. The loss means that Tarkanian has now been rejected by voters in three of Nevada’s four congressional districts. It also marks his second primary loss, after the GOP primary for U.S. Senate in 2010.
“Thanks Nevada Primary Election voters! Thank you for rooting for and sticking with the home team!” Amodei said in a news release sent out after initial results were released. He also thanked every other candidate in the primary, with the notable exception of Tarkanian.
Stop hurting America!
The mail ballots were still being counted as the general election contest began. The Senate Majority PAC put out an ad attacking Laxalt for corporate ties during his term as AG, featuring former state Sen. Patty Farley.
But the Laxalt campaign was up first with an ad of its own, accusing incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of undermining America.
“If you wanted to hurt American families, what would you do?” the ad asks. “Would you sow chaos in our streets? Undermine our police? Dismantle our borders? Make America dependent on foreign oil? Spend trillions to trigger devastating inflation? That’s exactly what Joe Biden and Catherine Cortez Masto have done. We’re in a fight between what’s right and what the left has done to America. This November, let’s get it right.”
Leave aside the dubious political wisdom of intentionally harming America when your opponents will obviously exploit each and every issue above to oust you from office. The ad’s most devastating charge is not words, but a picture of a smiling Cortez Masto apparently standing next to a yelling Biden. That’s an image you will only see in TV ads, since Cortez Masto does not want Biden (or, really, almost anybody from the administration or congressional leadership) visiting Nevada before November. In this race, she’s truly on her own.
Basque Fry update
There’s plenty of red meat for conservatives at the annual event at the Corley Ranch in Gardnerville, and we’re not just talking about the delicious food. The guest list is starting to shape up with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts. Tickets range from $20 for people younger than 21 (kids are free!) to $1,000 for a VIP adult. The Basque Fry was started by former Nevada governor and senator Paul Laxalt, Adam Laxalt’s grandfather, and the younger Laxalt revived it. He’s not in the marketing materials this year, however, since he’s concentrating on his run for Senate.
Quote of the week
“We’re at a time when we need this revenue, clearly, in the state and it needs to be fair for everybody.” – Sisolak, calling for a legislative fix for a loophole that allows multimillion-dollar real estate transactions to avoid transfer taxes, a story brought to light by the Review-Journal’s Eli Segall.
Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.