Republicans are largely on defense this election cycle, but they’re targeting two open seats in Nevada, where voters selected their general election candidates Tuesday night.
In the 4th District, two former one-term seat holders — Democrat Steven Horsford and Republican Cresent Hardy — easily won their respective primaries. In the 3rd District, perennial GOP candidate Danny Tarkanian and Democrat Susie Lee advanced to what is also expected to be a competitive fall race.
Republicans are eyeing both districts, where the Democratic incumbents won by slim margins in 2016 despite a good year for the party in the Silver State. But Democrats are confident of holding both seats due to strong candidates, increased party energy and competitive races at the top of the ticket.
The National Republican Congressional Committee signaled at the end of April that it would be willing to spend in the races, with its independent expenditure arm reserving $3.6 million in the Las Vegas media market. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership, has not reserved time in that market.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has not yet reserved time in the Las Vegas area. But House Majority PAC, a super PAC tied to Democratic leadership, has reserved $2.8 million there. Those reservations are all subject to change as the races progress.
The open 3rd District race is one of a dozen House seats held by a Democrat that backed President Donald Trump two years ago. As expected, Tarkanian, the 2016 nominee, won the GOP nod Tuesday night.
With 56 percent of precincts reporting, he led a nine-way GOP field with 43 percent of the vote when The Associated Press called the race for the seat Democrat Jacky Rosen is vacating to run for Senate.
His fall opponent will be Democrat Susie Lee, who outpaced six other candidates to win her primary Tuesday. With 47 percent of precincts reporting, she had 68 percent of the vote, according to the AP.
Tarkanian’s win was not a surprise, given his high name ID from previous runs and a familiar last name — his father Jerry was the legendary University of Nevada, Las Vegas basketball coach. But the question now for Republicans is whether he can break his five-time losing streak.
Tarkanian initially launched a challenge to GOP Sen. Dean Heller, before dropping out after Trump tweeted that it would be ideal if the incumbent was unopposed. So Tarkanian opted to seek the 3rd District seat again — he lost to Rosen by a point in 2016. He alsopreviously lost bids for the 4th District in in 2012, for U.S. Senate in 2010, for Nevada secretary of state in 2006 and for the state Senate in 2004.
While Tarkanian has a sizable campaign war chest from his aborted Senate run,so does Lee. A philanthropist and education advocate, she had $856,000 on hand to $702,000 for her Republican opponent as of the pre-primary reporting period, according to Federal Election Commission documents.
Lee has been endorsed by former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and was added to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue program for strong challengers.
Voters in the 4th District were hit with a feeling of déjà vu after Tuesday’s primaries set up a rematch between Horsford and Hardy.
Horsford won the newly created district in 2012 after Nevada gained a seat in redistricting. Hardy unseated him two years later before he in turn lost to Democrat Ruben Kihuen in 2016. The incumbent is not running for re-election following allegations of sexual harassment.
While Hardy was expected to win his GOP primary, Horsford had to spend to overcome a crowded Democratic field. With 33 percent of precincts reporting, he led a six-way field with 64 percent when the AP called the race.
On the GOP side, the AP called the race with Hardy leading five other candidates with 44 percent of the vote and 30 percent of precincts reporting.
The rematch could bring back some tried-and-true attacks from 2014, but both sides are also gearing up for new messaging. Democrats are expected to cast Hardy as too conservative for the district, while Republicans will likely hit Horsford for moving to Virginia after losing re-election, and only recently moving back to the 4th District.
Democrats do have a voter registration edge — 41 percent to 32 percent — over Republicans. Voters not affiliated with a party make up 21 percent.
Hillary Clinton carried the 4th by 5 points in 2016, while Kihuen won by a similar margin. That represented a drop from 2012, when the district backed President Barack Obama by 10 points and Horsford by 8 points.
Inside Elections rates the 4th District race Likely Democratic.
Most of the primary action was on the House side as the hotly contested Senate race matchup was essentially set.
Rosen and Heller both easily won their respective primaries, setting up a hotly contested general election race that represents one of the Democrats’ few pickup opportunities of the cycle.
Inside Elections rates the Senate race a Toss-up.