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STEVE SEBELIUS: 8 takeaways from Nevada’s June primary

See, Nevada? That wasn’t so hard.

Now that the results of our first mail-in election are in the books, we can take a look back at the primary for some of the lessons buried in all those ballots. Here are eight things we can take away from the June primary:

1 People turned out for the primary. The turnout — 29.47 percent — was the third-highest in the past 20 years, and it’s especially high given that there wasn’t a marquee statewide race at the top of the ticket. In both the first (2010) and second (2006) highest-turnout primaries, there were competitive races for governor. And when you consider primary turnout in presidential election years, this year’s was the highest since 1996.

2Most people followed directions. About 98 percent of people voted by mailing in their ballots, according to the secretary of state. There were long lines on election day for some of the 2 percent who decided to vote in person, although that was entirely unnecessary. The high response is impressive, especially given Nevada’s long history of in-person voting and the short time state and local officials had to explain the coronavirus-induced switch to voting by mail.

3Every vote counts. Initially, it looked as if Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel was going to win the primary for state Senate District 7 over former state Democratic Party Chairwoman Roberta Lange. But over the course of a week’s ballot counting, Lange gradually gained the votes to erode Spiegel’s lead, finishing — as of late last week — up by just 132 votes.

4Strike 2. Former state Treasurer Dan Schwartz first won office by running at the right time — avoiding a primary entirely in 2014’s infamous “red tide.” Since then, however, he hasn’t fared well. He won just 9 percent in the Republican primary for governor in 2018 and, despite spending a lot of money, captured just 27 percent of the vote in this year’s primary for Congressional District 3, a second-place finish to former pro wrestler Dan “Big Dan” Rodimer.

5No incumbent is ever really safe. Assemblyman Chris Edwards probably thought he had it made in District 19. Nobody filed to run against him until the last day, when Mesquite City Councilwoman Annie Black signed up. Black — who ran unsuccessfully for Republican state party chair against Michael McDonald in 2019 — ran an energetic campaign that challenged the theretofore lethargic Edwards to become more active. But it was all for naught: She ended up beating him 61 percent to 39 percent, a humiliating defeat for a three-term incumbent.

6The Clark County Commission is a Democratic stronghold. Yes, Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 154,000 voters in Clark County. But Republicans haven’t been able to field a commissioner since Bruce Woodbury and Chip Maxfield left in 2008. This time around, the Republican’s best chance to win is in District C, where Las Vegas Councilman Stavros Anthony is challenging former Secretary of State Ross Miller. But with a 13,000-voter registration deficit, it will be an uphill climb for the GOP.

7 If at first you don’t succeed, Part 1. Andy Matthews ran for Congress in 2016 and came in fourth. This time, he did the smart thing and sought a smaller office, in Assembly District 37, facing off with another unsuccessful congressional aspirant, former TV reporter Michelle Mortensen. Matthews collected nearly half the vote in his primary and is now in one of the most competitive Assembly seats in the state, with the potential to pick it up for Republicans. The lesson to candidates? If you lose a big race, resetting your expectations and running in a smaller district for a less high-profile seat is a good strategy.

8If at first you don’t succeed, Part 2. Danny Tarkanian never learned the lesson Matthews did. After losing in a small state Senate seat back in 2004, he ran for statewide office, Congress and the U.S. Senate repeatedly and unsuccessfully. He was on the ballot six times but chalked up victories only in GOP primaries.

But this time around, after moving to Douglas County in Northern Nevada and getting into a County Commission race, Tarkanian finally broke the curse: He won against an incumbent commissioner by just 17 votes. Now, assuming fate does not play a cruel trick and reverse the results in an expected recount, Tarkanian can tell people that persistence, as well as starting more than 400 miles away, sometimes pays off in the end.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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