LAS VEGAS — Republican lawmakers who took the risky move of supporting GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $1.4 billion tax plan face their biggest test yet on Tuesday.
Primary voters will weigh in on whether to keep them after they broke with Republican orthodoxy, or to support the anti-tax purists who are challenging them.
The heated primary election is the first hurdle for Republicans hoping to maintain the 36-27 legislative majority they won in the conservative “red wave” of 2014. It will also gauge whether Republican voters resonate with Sandoval’s vision of investing more in the bottom-ranking school system, or whether they feel betrayed that taxes were raised to do it.
Democratic lawmakers unanimously supported the tax plan and aren’t showing the same angst about it. But some still face tough costly primaries as the party pursues its ultimate quest: taking a majority in the Legislature to match the majority they have among Nevada registered voters.
Here are some things to watch:
UGLIEST PRIMARIES SETTLED
Two primaries for open seats stand out as the ugliest. The battle for Senate District 6 in Las Vegas — currently held by Republican Mark Lipparelli — has become a ferocious and personal contest between two former Assembly colleagues.
Republican former Assemblyman Erv Nelson is backed by GOP Senate leaders and Sandoval. He voted for the tax package after an emotional speech last spring admitting he was wrong on his previous anti-tax stance.
Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman has attacked him as a liar and a carpetbagger after he moved a few miles to run in the district. Nelson supporters have slammed her for a bankruptcy and say she has a checkered record on taxes.
The damaged winner will face Democratic political newcomer Nicole Canizzaro in a Democratic-leaning district.
In a Reno-area Assembly race, anti-tax Lisa Krasner is back after an 11-vote loss last cycle, trying to bat down more moderate Republican attorney Jason Giunasso for the open seat.
A judge in a residency case ruled Guinasso is eligible for the race, but Krasner still says Guinasso doesn’t live in the district and calls him the biggest cheerleader of the new Commerce Tax.
Whoever emerges from that race will be the de facto winner — no Democrats are running.
SURVIVAL OF TAX BACKERS
Republican supporters of the tax plan are trying to hang on in the face of challenges from the right. Carson City Assemblyman P.K. O’Neill faces three serious competitors in his conservative district, and raised more than any other Assembly candidate in the past three weeks in a bid for survival.
James Oscarson, who represents a highly conservative district that includes Pahrump, blanketed his district with huge signs in an attempt to stave off two less-funded primary opponents.
Others vulnerable during the primary include freshman David Gardner, who’s running against Republican National Committeewoman Diana Orrock in his Las Vegas district, and Steven Silberkraus, who’s running against Henderson real estate agent Amy Groves.
If Gardner and Silberkraus win their primaries, they’ll still have plenty of work to do to retain their Democratic-leaning districts.
DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS VS. OTHERS
Some Democrats who didn’t get endorsements from leaders in the Assembly Democratic Caucus are running serious bids to overtake the chosen ones.
Caucus-endorsed Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod has formidable challenges from Zach Conine and Manny Garcia in Assembly District 34. The Las Vegas district is held by Republican Seaman but leans Democratic; the primary winner is likely to prevail in the general election.
Another hard-fought contest is in Assembly District 41, an open seat in the Henderson area that’s currently held by Republican Vicki Dooling. Assembly Democratic leaders prefer Sandra Jauregui for the seat, but former Assemblyman Paul Aizley is not going down without a fight in his comeback bid.
On the Republican side of the District 41 race, Republican operative Nick Phillips is running against anti-tax Mary Rooney. The district leans comfortably Democratic.
BATTLE BETWEEN LEADERS
Powerful moderate Republican Assembly Leader Paul Anderson is leading the effort to save tax-supporting incumbents and maintain his party’s majority. Freshman Assemblyman Brent Jones is leading a counter-effort to install anti-tax candidates in place of moderates.
The two rivals must first pass their own primaries. Anderson is facing two opponents, including Jones-backed Steve Sanson.
Jones is facing a challenge from Anderson-backed candidate Tiffany Jones.
WATCH NOW, NOT LATER
In some cases, races will essentially be decided on Tuesday because only candidates from one party are running.
That’s the case for a North Las Vegas-area Senate race between incumbent Democrat Kelvin Atkinson and challenger Steven Harvey Munford.
Others include a Mesquite-area contest between incumbent Republican Chris Edwards and challenger Connie Foust, and Republican Paul Anderson’s race.
Some Assembly candidates get a free ride to Carson City because they have no opponents from either party. They include Democrats Nelson Araujo and Olivia Diaz, and Republicans Ira Hansen, John Ellison and Jim Wheeler.