Progressives, a basketball star and voter apathy reigned on Election Day

The big winners in Nevada politics Tuesday were progressive Democrats who claimed the scalp of an incumbent state senator, Las Vegas basketball scion Danny Tarkanian and apathy.

The win for progressives came in state Senate District 1, where minister Patricia Spearman ousted incumbent Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, in the Democratic primary.

A coalition of social and environmental groups banded together behind Spearman after becoming disheartened with the moderate Lee’s lack of support for a proposed $1.2 billion tax increase during the 2011 legislative session, opposition to same-sex marriage and perceived hostility to conservationists on Lake Tahoe issues.

"This is a people-powered victory against corporate forces that tried to bolster Democrat In Name Only John Lee," progressive political activists Erin Neff, Brian Fadie and Michael Flores crowed in an email to supporters after results showing Spearman won 63 percent of the vote compared to Lee’s 37 percent.

On the Republican side in the primary for Congressional District 4, Tarkanian finally notched a big win for a political career marked by losses in the U.S. Senate primary in 2010, a state senate race in 2004 and Nevada Secretary of State race in 2006.

The son of former University of Nevada Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian defeated state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas and seven others in the primary. Tarkanian won 32 percent of the vote to Cegavske’s 28 percent. Veteran Kenneth Wegner was a distant third with 21 percent.

"We felt going in we were going to win, but quite frankly it was a lot closer than we expected," Tarkanian said.

It will be tough for Tarkanian to turn the victory into a winning streak, however, as he faces state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, in the general election.

Spearman, Tarkanian and other winners clearly rallied enough supporters to advance their purposes but for the most part Nevadans sat this election out.

Statewide turnout was under 19 percent, with 199,997 out of about 1 million eligible voters casting ballots.

The turnout rate was Tuesday was well below the 30 percent turnout rate in the 2010 primary elections.

Voters in Laughlin rejected a bid to make their community a city, which would have given it more independence from Clark County.

With 100 percent of three precincts reporting, 57 percent rejected a ballot question for incorporation with 43 percent voting in favor.


10:46 p.m.: Tarkanian claims victory in GOP Congressional primary, sets sights on Horsford

With victory clinched about 10:15 p.m., a subdued Danny Tarkanian briefly celebrated with his exuberant supporters.

He said he was relieved to have pulled out the close win over state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas.

"We felt going in we were going to win, but quite frankly it was a lot closer than we expected," he said.

He predicted a close race against state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, but said he would try to capitalize on the support he got in rural counties, especially among conservative Democrats and independents.

His campaign will also target Latino and black voters in Clark County, he said.

"I think we’ll take a chunk of the African-American community from Horsford," he said.

With more than 99 percent of the precincts counted, Tarkanian had 31 percent of the vote, Cegavske 28 percent, veteran Kenneth Wegner 21 percent and businessman Dan Schwartz 11 percent.

Horsford was unopposed in the Democratic primary.


10:29 p.m.: Tarkanian lead growing in Republican Congressional primary

The Republican race for the Congressional District 4 nomination wasn’t even over, but Democrats were preparing to attack apparent winner Danny Tarkanian.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting Tarkanian had 31 percent of the vote compared to 28 percent for state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas.

Even before results posted Nevada State Democratic Party spokesman Zach Hudson mocked Tarkanian’s losing record as a candidate in past elections.

And Geoff Mackler, a spokesman for Democratic nominee Steven Horsford, accused the son of basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian of being someone who would "stand by wealthy Wall Street executives during these difficult times."


10:17 p.m.: Tarkanian lead growing in Republican Congressional primary

Danny Tarkanian pulled further ahead of state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, in the latest round of balloting in the Congressionial District 4 Republican primary.

With nearly 89 percent of precincts reporting, Tarkanian is pulling almost 32 percent of the vote compared to less than 28 percent for Cegavske. The two candidates are separated by 953 votes.

Veteran Kenneth Wegner is in third with 21 percent of the vote.

The winner will face a tough road in the general election as Democrats have nominated state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas.

At Tarkanian’s election office campaign staffers glued their eyes to a collection of computer screens and pored over the incoming results from Clark County and the secretary of state.

They refreshed and refreshed again, as each new round of results seemed to post a new leader in the seesaw battle.

Tarkanian, who long ago lost his suit jacket, whisked in eager for a report.

He’s losing in the Clark County precincts, so he focuses on the rural counties, which he predicted earlier would hold his key to victory.

"How much did I win White Pine by?" he asked.

"Two-oh-five – 205 votes," a staffer replied.

But he was down 21 votes overall at the time.

"Can’t I win parts of Clark somewhere?" he asked to nobody in particular.

Within minutes another refresh seesawed him back to a 34-vote lead.

Tarkanian soon headed back to the bar, and his team went back to refreshing.


9:59 p.m.: Associated Press declares Spearman winner of incumbent Democrat Lee

Progressive challenger Patricia Spearman has ousted incumbent Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, in the primary for state Senate District 1, the Associated Press is reporting.

With 89 percent of precincts reporting, Spearman leads Lee 63 percent to 37 percent.

The winner is likely to win the general election in the district, which has a 2-to-1 Democratic registration advantage. The only other candidate is Independent American Gregory Hughes and his party has never won a legislative seat in Nevada.


9:46 p.m.: Republican nail-biter continues in race for Congressional District 4 nomination

The see-saw battle between state Sen. Barbara Cegavske and Danny Tarkanian in the race for the Republican nomination in Congressional District 4 continues, with Tarkanian holding a slight lead in the latest statewide results.

According to the Nevada Secretary of State, Tarkanian had 5,705 votes, or 30.31 percent, to Cegavske’s 5,543, or 29.45 percent, with 80 percent of precincts reported.

Tarkanian, who has run unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate and Secretary of State in the past, has said if he doesn’t win it will be his last campaign.

The winner of the primary will face state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, in the general election. Horsford was unopposed in the Democratic primary.


9:05 p.m.: Spearman holds big lead over incumbent Lee in state senate

With about 60 percent of precincts in state Senate District 1 reporting results, progressives were declaring victory in their quest to oust incumbent Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas.

According to the Clark County Elections Department, Patricia Spearman, a minister, was leading Lee 63 to 37 percent.

"When we have a so-called friend abandon us on issue after issue, we were left with little recourse but to launch an independent campaign to educate primary voters," Nevada Priorities PAC spokeswoman Annette Mangus said in an email.

Lee, who had support from the Democratic establishment, angered progressives for being unwilling to commit to a proposed $1.2 billion tax increase during the 2011 legislative session and his opposition to same sex marriage.

Nevada Priorities has support from Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood, the Nevada Conservation League and other progressive groups.

The winner of the primary is likely to win the general election, as the district has a 2-to-1 Democratic registration advantage.


8:39 p.m.: Fewer than 100 votes separate Cegavske, Tarkanian

At the Danny Tarkanian election party headquarters at Born and Raised, a few dozen supporters crowded the bar and patio hoping to celebrate their candidate’s win.

After the polls closed at 7 p.m., the supporters either craned their necks at the TV for Congressional District 4 Republican primary results or kept refreshing their smart phones to get the latest results.

"Oh no," one supporter said when the first results showed his candidate trailing state Sen. Barbara Cegavske 30 percent to 28 percent.

At 8 p.m. UNLV legend Jerry Tarkanian arrived and sat at a table next to a wall of 16 televisions, all of them tuned to the NBA Finals.

His son arrived about 15 minutes later from his campaign office nearby.

He worked the crowd, giving supporters handshakes and hugs.

"It’s going to be close," he said.

The numbers backed up the prediction, with Tarkanian trailing Cegavske by fewer than 100 votes with 17 percent of precincts reporting. Veteran Kenneth Wegner was third, about 700 votes behind Tarkanian.

Tarkanian acknowledged the negative effects of a recent $17 million civil judgment against him in a lawsuit over a failed business deal.

"Obviously that hurt, but we’re still in the ballgame," he said.

After saying hello to his father, the younger Tarkanian headed back to his campaign office to watch more results come in.

The squeaker race of the evening is also the marquee contest on the ballot, the Republican battle for the Congressional District 4 nomination.

With 17 percent of the vote counted statewide, state Sen. Barbara Cegavske has a lead of fewer than 100 votes over Danny Tarkanian, son of famous basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and frequent political candidate.

The winner of the contest will face state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, who was unchallenged in the Democratic primary.


8:09 p.m.: Early votes show Laughlin against incorporation

The proposal to incorporate Laughlin into a city so it can gain more independence from Clark County has divided the casino community on the Colorado River about 90 miles south of Las Vegas.

Voters in opposition are holding sway early with ballots against incorporation leading 55 percent to 45 percent, according to the Clark County Elections Department.

"The way it is this town’s not ready," said cocktail waitress Suzy Cooper, a 20-year resident of the area.

Unlike usual apathy in primary elections that draw few voters, more than 900 voters, or about 30 percent of Laughlin’s registered voters, turned out by 5 p.m. to vote on incorporation at the Spirit Mountain Activity Center.

Early voting, which ended last week, drew more than 12 percent.

Election worker Mary Audrey said early Tuesday, "there were lines out the door" for a place with five precincts and about 3,000 registered voters.

Voters leaving the polls on Election Day were very passionate — whether for or against — in the discussion about being under the thumb of Clark County government.

One voter, who supports incorporation but declined to give his name, likened it to "a battle of David versus Goliath."

"If we were a city, we could control our own destiny," the man said. "We could attract more business. It’s hard to get new businesses here with the licensing process."


8 p.m.: Polls close; Cegavske leads Tarkanian early in 4th Congressional District

In the 4th Congressional District Republican primary early voting showed state Sen. Barbara Cegavske with 30 percent of vote, trailed by Danny Tarkanian with 28 percent and Ken Wegner with 22 percent.

In state Senate District 1 Democratic primary the early vote in Clark County showed incumbent Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas losing to challenger Patricia Spearman. The first post from the Nevada Secretary of State showed Lee with 40 percent to Spearman’s 60 percent.

Early votes from Laughlin showed voters there leaning against incorporating into a city, 55 percent to 45 percent.

In another contested primary Assemblyman Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, leads Assemblyman Richard McArthur 55 percent to 43 percent for Senate District 18 after the early vote.

In a bitterly contested Republican race for Senate District 9 Mari Nakashima St. Martin is leading Brent Jones 53 percent to 47 percent.

In the Democratic primary for Senate District 11 establishment favorite Aaron Ford leads former lawmaker Harry Mortenson 67 percent to 42 percent.


3:43 p.m.: Voting slow as polls open for primary election



The first voters trickled in to cast their primary ballots as polls opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday across the Las Vegas Valley, proving as Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax expected that turnout would be low.

"No doubt it’s going to be slow," he said after the first hour of voting.

By 10:30 a.m., the voter tally for Tuesday was 9,389 at the more than 200 polling sites. That translates to approximately 1.4 percent of Clark County’s 691,575 active registered voters. By 3 p.m. the tally more than doubled to 22,910, or 3.3 percent of the county’s active voters.

Polling places across the valley appear to have opened smoothly without major incidents.

"As far as I can tell everything is going fine," Lomax said.

Polls close at 7 p.m. today.

In early voting that ended Friday, just 11 percent, or 116,913 of the state’s 1,058,808 active registered voters, cast ballots or sent in absentee votes. In Clark County, the turnout was less – 10.2 percent voted, or 70,798 of the county’s 691,575 active registered voters. Republican turnout was higher than Democratic.

At the polling place at the Durango Hills Community Center and YMCA, a few of the 53 who cast ballots by 10:30 a.m., offered their insights on the hotly contested Republican primary race for 4th Congressional District. The race features nine candidates, including six with prior military service who are vying for a chance to face the lone Democrat, departing state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, and Floyd Fitzgibbons of the Independent American Party in the Nov. 6 general election.

The first Durango Hills voter, Doug Gapp, 49, said he voted for Barbara Cegavske, a state senator running for the 4th Congressional District seat.

"I like what she’s been saying. She’s conservative," Gapp said adding that he selected her over the military veterans even though he said he has a "lot of military" in his family.

"I just vote on the issues and spending is the big one," he said.

Dan Polsenberg, 55, said he struggled with his decision in the Republican primary race for the 4th Congressional District.

"That was a tough one. At the last minute, I flipped over," he said about the ballot he cast for Cegavske because of her experience in the Legislature.

Nevertheless, he said, "Danny is a great guy," referring to Danny Tarkanian who has been leading the pack of Republicans.

Later in the morning, Republican Breck Shortley, 52, said he voted for his neighbor, Gulf War veteran Ken Wegner, in the 4th Congressional District primary.

"He’s not a politician. He’s a guy of the people," said Shortley, an airline pilot.

A few miles east of the Durango Hills polling place, at the Rainbow Library near Buffalo Drive and Cheyenne Avenue, seven voters cast ballots in the first 40 minutes including Richard Kasky, 72.

His view of the Republican field for the 4th Congressional District was "not too much out there."

A Republican, he decided to go for Mike Delarosa, 42, an Air Force veteran who served at Iraklion Air Station on Crete, Greece, in the early 1990s in support of operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Kasky said he voted for Delarosa because of his background and perspective.

"He put his views out there. A lot of the other candidates didn’t have information," Kasky said.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at or 702-383-0308.

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