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Party leaders pick favorites in Nevada primary, but will long shots come in?

Battles in both parties for House and Senate seats

Sam Peters, a GOP candidate in the 4th District, campaigns last month on the first day of early voting in Pahrump, Nev.
Sam Peters, a GOP candidate in the 4th District, campaigns last month on the first day of early voting in Pahrump, Nev. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The odds are against upsets in Tuesday’s Nevada primaries, but the house doesn’t always win, especially in low-turnout elections.

In the Republican Senate primary, former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the son and grandson of former senators, has led by double-digit margins in multiple polls over Sam Brown, an Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient. The winner will face Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the most vulnerable senator running this year.

Laxalt has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, who praised his work combating “election fraud” in Nevada. But Brown has the endorsement of the Nevada Republican Party, and one sign his campaign had some late strength might be that the anti-tax group Club for Growth, which backs Laxalt, has spent another $519,000 on the race since May 24 alone.

President Joe Biden won Nevada, a state where Democratic voters in particular have embraced early and mail-in voting. Democrats still anticipate that Laxalt will prevail Tuesday. Cortez Masto’s campaign and the Nevada Democratic Victory operation have been focusing their attention on Laxalt’s failed legal efforts related to alleged fraud in the 2020 election. The Senate race is rated as a Toss-up by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.

The only Democratic incumbent with an intriguing primary matchup is Rep. Dina Titus, who is seeking reelection in a reconfigured 1st District. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on Thursday endorsed challenger Amy Vilela.

“Amy was my state co-chair in 2020, and has been a consistent champion for Medicare for All in Nevada. When elected, Amy will be a champion for working families, and she will fight tirelessly for a Green New Deal, Housing for All, and a progressive foreign policy,” Sanders said in a statement. “I am proud to endorse her to represent the people of Nevada’s 1st Congressional District.”

Through May 25, Titus had almost $1.3 million in her campaign account, compared to Vilela’s $54,000. But Vilela had also outspent Titus up to that point, $437,000 to $329,000. Offsetting that effect may have been $244,000 spent supporting Titus by the Opportunity for All Action Fund, a recently formed super PAC that has not yet had to disclose its donors.

Titus is introducing herself to many new voters thanks to redistricting, as nearly half the population in the new-look district in Tuesday’s primary was part of either Rep. Susie Lee‘s 3rd District or Steven Horsford‘s 4th District in the 2020 election.

There’s an eight-candidate slate of Republicans vying to challenge Titus. The most well-known name may be former Rep. Cresent Hardy, who previously represented the more sprawling 4th District for one term. But Hardy has raised almost no money, and the front-runners appear to be Carolina Serrano, who worked on Hispanic outreach for Trump’s 2020 campaign, military veteran Mark Robertson and David Brog, a former leader of Christians United for Israel.

Brog, whose endorsers include former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is among the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “On the Radar” candidates. Originally from Atlantic City, N.J., Brog was also a longtime aide to then-GOP Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, including as staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on the Republican primary in the 2nd District, where incumbent Rep. Mark Amodei is facing perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian, a county commissioner in Douglas County.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC that’s aligned with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, has reported spending more than $200,000 against Tarkanian. The group is running ads highlighting Tarkanian’s lack of ties to northern Nevada. He is better connected to the Las Vegas area, and he has previously run for Congress multiple times in seats based in that part of the state.

The other two House Republican primaries, where Horsford and Lee will learn the identities of their challengers for the general election, are competitive.

In the race in the 4th District, Air Force veteran Sam Peters was second in the GOP primary for the same seat two years ago and has reported the highest fundraising totals. But Mesquite-based Assemblywoman Annie Black is an NRCC “On the Radar” candidate.

Black is among Republican candidates across the country who were at the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021, and she has falsely argued (including on the day of last week’s prime-time Jan. 6 committee hearing) that Biden was not fairly elected.

“Democrats in the Nevada Legislature selected him by changing the voting rules just 90 days before the election,” Black said in a campaign newsletter. “And that doesn’t even count all the shenanigans that have been exposed about rubber-gloved ballot trafficking ‘mules’ who stuffed ballot boxes in the dead of night!”

In the redrawn 3rd District, Las Vegas lawyer April Becker has raised more than $1 million in her effort to take on Lee and has key endorsements, including from McCarthy. She has cut a general election-themed campaign ad targeting Lee (and Speaker Nancy Pelosi) over inflation, including high gas prices.

The winners may not be quickly known if races are close. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by primary day, but they can be received through Saturday, June 18.

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