Tight race for Nevada’s new congressional seat
November 1, 2012
Going strictly by the numbers, Democrats just a few months ago thought Steven Horsford was a lock to win Nevada’s newest seat in Congress. But with Election Day near, the outcome is anything but certain in the tight race against well-known Republican businessman Danny Tarkanian.
Democrats hold a 41,000 voter registration advantage in the 4th Congressional District that was created after the 2010 census to reflect the state’s population growth.
The district sprawls all or part of seven of Nevada’s 17 counties, from Las Vegas to 80 miles southeast of Reno, encompassing the urban corridors of North Las Vegas, onion and garlic fields in Yerington, remote ranches and mines and the towering peaks of Great Basin National Park near the state’s border with Utah.
Democrats’ registration edge, concentrated in North Las Vegas, might not be enough by itself to trump the conservative GOP base that dominates the rural areas. Nor might it overcome the Tarkanian brand, which is deeply imbedded in Nevada sports lore and familiar because of repeated but failed attempts by Tarkanian at the ballot box.
Also seeking the seat are Independent American Party candidate Floyd Fitzgibbons and Libertarian Joseph Silvestri. About 15,000 voters are registered with those parties.
North Las Vegas had been Nevada’s fastest growing city until the Great Recession left some neighborhoods with empty, foreclosed homes and high unemployment, and a city government on the brink of collapse.
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It’s an area Horsford knows well and has championed during his tenure in the Nevada Senate, where he rose to become the state’s first black majority leader.
Horsford, 39, is CEO of the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, a cooperative project between union groups and Las Vegas resorts to train people for jobs in the hospitality industry. He grew up in a tough neighborhood, where he helped raise his younger siblings. His mother was an addict, his father was murdered.
He was elected to the state Senate in 2004 and quickly ascended to leadership roles.
Tarkanian, 50, is making a fourth run at elected office, having struck out three times before, most recently in the 2010 GOP primary for state Senate.
Tarkanian survived a bruising primary in June to emerge atop a field of nine Republican candidates for the congressional seat.
Known as “Little Tark,” the son of former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian has tried to scoot from the far right to strike a more moderate tone to capture a conservative base and not alienate moderates in his own party or among the 51,000 nonpartisans who could determine the race.
Horsford might seem to have an edge in the district where 27 percent of registered voters are Hispanic and nearly 16 percent are black. But minority support is fractured, and Frank Hawkins – an NAACP chapter president and former Las Vegas councilman and NFL player – is backing Tarkanian.
Horsford has raised $1.3 million to Tarkanian’s nearly $1.2 million. Outside interest groups have pumped another $5.4 million into the race.
The National Republican Congressional Committee and the conservative group Crossroads GPS have spent a combined $3.5 million to defeat the Democrat. The amount is five times the outside help Horsford has gotten, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
Dan Hart, a Democratic consultant, said Tarkanian has far more name recognition than Horsford, who faces a costly challenge to become better known in a presidential election cycle.
“Television ads are very expensive this year and inventory of available slots is very low,” Hart said. “I think everybody’s expectations were that this would be an easier race than it has been.”