LAS VEGAS — Nevada voters were deciding a competitive Democratic primary race for governor Tuesday, a contest that became the state’s most closely watched after President Donald Trump helped clear a path to the GOP nomination for vulnerable Sen. Dean Heller.
Heller, the only GOP senator seeking re-election in a state won by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, was originally expected to face a tough challenge from Republican Danny Tarkanian until Trump asked him to run for Congress instead.
Heller now can expect to breeze through his primary and focus on a November battle with Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is expected to easily win her party’s backing against five others.
The toughest choice for Democrats was a close battle between Clark County Commission colleagues Steve Sisolak and Christina Giunchigliani — each hoping to be Nevada’s first Democratic governor in two decades.
Two longtime Democratic voters in Sparks, both 67, parted ways on the race.
Medical technician Pamela Jones said she voted for Sisolak because he seemed more honest. Retired AT&T worker Debora Lee said she went for Giunchigliani because she liked her record in the state legislature.
Both candidates have pledged to stand up to Trump and the National Rifle Association.
Sisolak, 64, is chair of the powerful governing body for Clark County, which includes the Las Vegas Strip and about two-thirds of the state’s residents. He became a prominent figure in the wake of an October mass shooting outside a hotel-casino.
But Giunchigliani paints Sisolak as too moderate and has knocked him for receiving an “A-” minus rating from the National Rifle Association in 2012.
Giunchigliani, who goes by “Chris G,” is a 63-year-old former state legislator and teacher. She’s earned backing from the women’s group Emily’s List and on Sunday picked up an endorsement from Hillary Clinton. She made a robocall for Giunchigliani and referred to her as “an extraordinary progressive leader”
Sisolak, who has held more moderate positions in the past, says he’s best-positioned to take on Republican state Attorney General Adam Laxalt in November.
Laxalt is expected to win the GOP primary and was endorsed by Trump on Tuesday. He backed Trump in 2016 and campaign spokesman Parker Briden said in a statement they were honored to have the president’s support.
Laxalt, hoping to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, is a former lieutenant in the U.S. Navy who has served as attorney general since 2015. He’s the grandson of former U.S. Sen. and Nevada Gov. Paul Laxalt and son of former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico.
Laxalt is backed by billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson and Americans for Prosperity.
Voter Wes Elliott, 70, is also a Trump supporter, calling him “exactly what the doctor ordered.”
Elliott said he voted for Laxalt because he likes the candidate’s character and the fact he’s a military veteran.
Speaking at a pre-election party in Las Vegas on Monday night, Laxalt called Giunchigliani and Sisolak “a couple of the most liberal candidates that have ever run in the history of this state.”
Another key Trump supporter, Tarkanian, is favored in the Republican race for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District. It is one of two swing seats in Nevada that Democrats are hoping to hold while they make gains elsewhere to win control of the U.S. House.
Tarkanian, the son of former University of Nevada Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, has run unsuccessfully for several offices over the past decade.
He is in a nine-way primary and is expected to face wealthy Democratic philanthropist Susie Lee in November. Lee faces six opponents in her primary.
Primary contests for Nevada’s other swing district, the 4th Congressional District, is expected to produce a November rematch of two former congressmen.
Former Rep. Steven Horsford is leading a six-way Democratic primary for his former seat. Horsford held the Democratic-leaning seat for one term before losing in 2014 to Republican Cresent Hardy, who is running again this year and leading a six-way GOP race for the seat. Hardy lost in 2016 to Democrat Ruben Kihuen, who is not seeking re-election after several women accused him of sexual misconduct.
The most serious primary challenge to an incumbent member of Nevada’s congressional delegation is conservative activist Sharron Angle’s bid for Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District.
Angle is a former legislator who gained national attention in 2010 when she unsuccessfully challenged ex-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. She also lost a 2016 bid to become the GOP’s nominee to replace Reid.
She has faced criticism for statements on guns, immigration and other issues, but incumbent Rep. Mark Amodei is favored. Amodei has been in office since 2011 and represents a conservative northern Nevada district.
Voters on Tuesday were also deciding inter-party races for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general. They’ll narrow the field in nonpartisan runoff races for the state Supreme Court and Clark County sheriff. Voters will settle about 30 primary battles for state legislative seats.
One of those races in Nye County pits incumbent Assembly member James Oscarson of Pahrump against Nevada’s most famous pimp, Dennis Hof.
Hof, who starred in the HBO adult reality series “Cathouse,” owns half a dozen brothels that could be threatened this year under proposals to ban such businesses in two of the state’s seven counties where they’re legally operating.
Hof has said the proposed brothel bans are a political attack tied to Oscarson, something Oscarson has denied.
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