The top vote-getter will go on to face Democratic Nevada Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford in a contest that would be an uphill climb for any Republican. Horsford benefits from his many years in Carson City, but his greatest advantage is the demographics of the newly created district. There were 113,312 active Democratic voters registered in the district in May, compared with fewer than 90,000 Republicans.
Despite the uneven odds, Republicans Barbara Cegavske, Dan Schwartz and Danny Tarkanian all argue they can emerge victorious against Horsford — if they survive the primary. The district stretches across Clark, Esmeralda, Lincoln, Lyon, Mineral, Nye and White Pine counties.
“The general election will be very brutal, there is no doubt about it,” Tarkanian said.
The contest is the marquee race of Tuesday’s primary, when Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Democratic Senate hopeful Shelley Berkley are expected to easily prevail against a slate of unknowns. Democrat Dina Titus is running to represent the largely Democratic 1st Congressional District and is expected to win without much of a fight in November. Republican Rep. Mark Amodei also faces no serious competition in his 2nd Congressional District re-election campaign. In Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, Republican Rep. Joe Heck and Democratic challenger John Oceguera also have enjoyed quiet primaries. Their November general election race, however, shapes up as the state’s most competitive in what is Nevada’s only true swing House district.
Tarkanian, a perennial candidate who has never held elected office, has the most name recognition in the 4th District race. Cegavske won endorsements from the state’s GOP elite, including Heck and Amodei. Schwartz, an affluent businessman, elbowed his way into the race with a series of attacks ads that portray Tarkanian as an unscrupulous career candidate.
“Danny Tarkanian never wins because Danny Tarkanian cannot be trusted,” claims one ad.
A series of recent legal troubles have hounded Tarkanian. Last month a federal judge in California signed a $17 million judgment against Tarkanian and his family from a failed real estate deal. The judgment involves a $14.6 million loan Tarkanian and others guaranteed for a developer through a family-owned businesses, Vegas Diamond Properties. The developer later filed for bankruptcy and the bank that made the loan, La Jolla Bank, was taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
“I don’t see how you can conduct a serious campaign, let alone be a House member, with a $17 million judgment hanging over you,” Schwartz said. “Truthfully, prior to that, we were optimistic, but not hugely. But I think that has been a game changer.”
The Nevada Democratic Party also filed a federal elections complaint against Tarkanian in early May that alleged he accepted corporate contributions and failed to disclose debt from his failed 2010 Senate campaign.
Tarkanian said the attacks illustrate that his Republican and Democratic rivals want him out of the race.
“You don’t keep running for office like I have if you aren’t resilient,” Tarkanian said.
Tarkanian, a former University of Nevada, Las Vegas basketball player and the son of popular former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, is campaigning as an outsider. His wife, Amy Tarkanian, is the former chairwoman of the Nevada GOP and his campaign manager helped organize Clark County’s chaotic GOP presidential caucuses in February.
Tarkanian has outmaneuvered his rivals on campaign contributions. He collected $381,451 from individual contributions, compared with Cergavske’s $192,101 and Schwartz’s $35,865.
Cegavske could pull off an upset win. A former state senator, she has been touting her conservative credentials to appeal to rural voters. She promised to cut federal spending by $1 trillion during her first year in Congress, an improbable goal that nevertheless could appeal to the state’s many libertarian voters.
“She has done a pretty good job and she’s a small business owner,” said Tom Lott, a UPS franchise owner who plans to vote for Cegavske.
Cegavske has been running behind Tarkanian for months.
“She’s struggling,” said tea party activist Laurel Fee. “Although she has been a state senator and she has a very good conservative voting record, she lacks name recognition.”