RENO — Nevada voters head to the polls in Tuesday’s primary election, where Republicans will pick nominees in hotly contested races for lieutenant governor and the 4th Congressional District and Democrats will choose between eight relatively unknown gubernatorial candidates hoping to mount an unlikely campaign to unseat popular GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Light turnout was reported during early voting that closed Friday. Election officials predicted the same at the polls Tuesday partly because Sandoval faces only token primary opposition and none of the Democrats is expected to seriously challenge him in November.
The spotlight was on the GOP race for lieutenant governor, where state Sen. Mark Hutchison enjoyed Sandoval’s backing but ex-U.S. Senate hopeful Sue Lowden won the Nevada GOP’s formal endorsement.
Both are from Las Vegas. Lowden hopes her unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate in a 2010 loss to tea party conservative Sharron Angle will give her a leg up in rural areas, but she acknowledged Sandoval’s endorsement could be difficult to overcome.
“He’s so popular,” Lowden said on Friday. “I think it is going to be a dogfight to the end.”
Come November, one of them is expected to face Democratic state Assemblywoman Lucy Flores. She announced the opening of her new campaign office in Las Vegas on Monday in anticipation of quickly dispensing of primary challenger Harley Kulkin, who lost a 2010 state Senate primary.
In the 4th District, a pair of conservative Republicans are vying for the nomination to face first-term Democratic Rep. Stephen Horsford. Niger Innis, a former tea party strategist, and Assemblyman Cresent Hardy of Mesquite courted a mix of urban and rural voters in the district stretching from North Las Vegas north to nearly the middle of the state and all the way to the Utah line.
Horsford and 1st District Democrat Dina Titus faced only token primaries Nevada’s two other House members — Republicans Mark Amodei and Joe Heck — had none.
Amodei is expected to win re-election in November to a third term in the GOP-dominated 2nd District. None of the Democrats has prior political experience — Reno physician Vance Alm, Gardnerville store clerk Brian Dempsey, Reno engineer Ed Lee and Incline Village attorney Kristen Spees.
Democrats’ best shot at unseating a Republican in the fall is in the 3rd District, where first-term Rep. Heck likely will face Erin Bilbray, daughter of well-known four-term Nevada congressman James Bilbray. Her primary opponent, Democrat Zachary “Mr. Z” Campbell, lost a 2010 Assembly primary.
In the Legislature, Democrats hold a commanding 27-15 majority in the Assembly, but Republicans are hoping Tuesday’s winners will help regain control of the Senate, currently controlled by Democrats, 11-10.
Several Republican incumbents were targeted by conservative challengers in contests pitting grass-roots idealists against the so-called establishment, most notably the minority leaders in the Senate and Assembly. In one, a judge on Friday ordered challenger Gary Schmidt to pull a TV ad that claimed state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer supported Democratic Sen. Harry Reid in 2010.
The longest of the long shots were in the crowded field for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and the right to take on Sandoval, whose campaign war chest already has topped $3 million — 100 times more money than the best-financed Democrat.
Of the eight, only one did any visible campaigning — Chris Hyepock, as assistant casino manager in Las Vegas whose $30,593 in fundraising reported May 20 led the way.
The next three on the list loaned their campaigns the only money they reported. Stephen Frye, a retired doctor and Army veteran who lost the 3rd District congressional primary in 2012 and wants to legalize marijuana, and Bob Goodman, a retired state Economic Development commissioner from Las Vegas who lost primary bids for lieutenant governor in 2006 and 2010, each had $25,000. Las Vegas artist Allen Rheinhart loaned his campaign $20,000.