Updated: 12:43 a.m.
Republican Mark Amodei ran away with a victory Tuesday night in the special election for Nevada’s 2nd district.
Amodei, a former state legislator and ex-state GOP chairman, took 57 percent of the vote to Democratic state Treasurer Kate Marshall’s 37 percent with 71 percent of precincts reporting.
Amodei keeps the seat in GOP hands following the Senate appointment of Republican Dean Heller in May. The rural district, which includes all of Nevada outside metro Las Vegas, has never elected a Democrat to the House since it was created in 1981.
That fact, along with President Barack Obama’s 33 percent approval rating and the Marshall campaign’s inability to find a message that moved voters in her direction, led to this race becoming even less competitive than the other Tuesday special election in New York’s heavily Democratic 9th district.
Nevada added a fourth district through reapportionment, so this district will change when Amodei seeks a full term in November 2012. It’s the most likely of the four districts to be a safe Republican seat, but nothing is certain with the state’s redistricting process now in the courts.
Democratic strategists had been expecting an Amodei victory for months, and hard evidence began flowing in over the past two weeks as Republicans accounted for nearly 20 percent more of the early vote than Democrats. Private and public polling also showed Amodei with a comfortable lead.
Republicans credited the National Republican Congressional Committee’s decision to spend big and early on the race with keeping outside Democratic groups from committing resources on such a tough district. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D) Nevada turnout machine also saw the race as a lost cause and opted against assisting Marshall.
This was Nevada’s first special House election. Its vague election law on the special election process led to lawsuits from both parties, and the state Supreme Court ultimately sided with the GOP. Its decision to allow the major state parties to each nominate one candidate — rather than having a “ballot royal,” as Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller called for — meant Democrats would not be fortunate enough to have Marshall running against a slate of ambitious Republicans who would split the vote.
In a district with a 31,000-voter registration advantage for Republicans, from then on the race was Amodei’s to lose.