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Nevada primaries: Democrats are playing defense in 2 competitive House races

Republicans are hoping to flip two seats currently held by Susie Lee and Steven Horsford.

Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

Republicans are eyeing Nevada’s primaries on June 9 for opportunities to unseat a pair of Democrats facing tough reelection campaigns.

There aren’t any statewide positions up for grabs this election cycle in Nevada. But a couple of House races could prove competitive: Republicans are targeting the historically swingy District 3, as well as District 4, one of Nevada’s largest congressional districts. The incumbent Democrats, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford, first have to win primaries against a handful of challengers. But they have also both received funding from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline Program, which aims to help vulnerable candidates defend their seats — now and in the general election, assuming they win their primaries.

Nevada has shifted almost entirely to mail-in voting in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus, though it will still have some in-person polling locations. That makes turnout difficult to predict, but more Nevada voters have already cast their ballots in this year’s primaries than they did in 2016.

Roughly 19 percent of active registered voters submitted their ballots as of Friday, either through mail-in voting or in-person early voting, according to data from the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office.

Nevada has voted blue in three of the last four presidential elections, but it’s a battleground state this year. Just a few months ago, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders captured a sweeping victory in the state’s Democratic presidential presidential primary, buttressed in part by the state’s many Latino voters. Those voters could be key to keeping the state blue, but they’re up against an aging, increasingly conservative population.

Nevada polls close at 7 pm PT. Vox will have live results provided by Decision Desk. Here’s what you need to know about the state’s races.

District 3

Lee, a first-term member of Congress, has managed to amass a sizable pot of $2 million in campaign contributions — well above what her three major GOP rivals have raised. But while she is in a position of relative financial strength, her district, which encompasses the area south of Las Vegas, could still turn red in 2020. And on the eve of the primaries, she has come under fire for pushing the Trump administration to offer small business loans to the gaming industry as part of its coronavirus relief efforts — a measure that benefited her husband’s business.

The Daily Beast reported Monday that her husband, who owns a casino that incurred significant losses as businesses were forced to shut down, consequently received two federally backed small business loans amounting to a total of $5.6 million. A spokesperson for Lee, however, told the Daily Beast that she had “no influence over the decision to file the application [for the loans], and she had no influence over whether or not that application was approved or denied.”

Rep. Susie Lee is one of two incumbent Democrats in Nevada facing a primary challenge from Republicans.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Democrats have held the district since 2016, when Lee’s predecessor and now Nevada’s junior US Sen. Jacky Rosen narrowly won, flipping the district for the first time in six years. Lee, a former nonprofit manager in Las Vegas, managed to continue that winning streak in 2018, bolstered by a blue wave in the midterms.

But Lee doesn’t have much of an edge this year in terms of Democratic voter registrations, which are just 3 percent above GOP registrations. And President Donald Trump narrowly won the district in 2016, suggesting that voters’ preferences don’t strictly align with a particular party.

She is also facing two primary challenges, one from Dennis Sullivan, a US Navy veteran and newcomer to politics who has criticized her education policy, and the other from Tiffany Ann Watson, a self-described “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” Democrat who has advocated against a ban on semi-automatic weapons.

The GOP field is more crowded with six candidates: Brian Nadell, a professional poker player; Corwin Newberry, who worked in the apparel industry for decades; Mindy Robinson, a reality television star; Dan Rodimer, a former professional wrestler; Dan Schwartz, the former Nevada state treasurer; and Victor Willert, a former school principal.

Rodimer, who was endorsed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Schwartz are leading the pack, having each raised more than $600,000 in campaign funds. Rodimer has sought to paint Schwartz as a liberal in disguise, even though Schwartz says he supports Trump and Second Amendment rights and opposes federal funding for abortions.

District 4

To keep his seat in District 4, Horsford will have to fend off five primary challengers, some of whom called on him to drop out of the race after he admitted to having a prolonged extramarital affair with a former intern for then-Nevada Sen. Harry Reid. Republicans are hoping that the infighting among Democrats will clear the way for them to recapture the seat.

Horsford, a former state senator and executive at the Culinary Workers Union, the largest union in the state, has not indicated any intention to drop out of the race. Some of his Democratic opponents have said that the affair is a personal matter that does not necessarily impact his ability to serve voters. But others — including Gabrielle “Brie” D’Ayr, a US Navy veteran and former candidate for the Nevada State Assembly — have suggested that it is disqualifying.

Rep. Steven Horsford, at the US Capitol on March 27.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Eight Republicans are competing to unseat him: Rosalie Bingham, an investor and entrepreneur; Leo Blundo, a restaurant owner and the current Nye County commissioner; Jim Marchant, a former Nevada assemblyman; Charles Navarro, a US Navy veteran; Sam Peters, an Air Force veteran who started his own insurance business; Randi Reed, who works in commercial real estate; Lisa Song Sutton, a small business owner and former Miss Nevada; and Rebecca Wood, another small business owner. No clear frontrunner has emerged.

It’s not the first time that District 4’s representative has been mired in scandal. Ruben Kihuen, who held the seat from 2017 to 2019, decided not to run for reelection amid sexual misconduct allegations brought by a woman staffer on his campaign. Then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had asked him to resign.

Reid’s former intern, Gabriela Linder, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Horsford had “offered her financial support, introduced her to political connections and filmed a segment for her young son’s YouTube show using his congressional staff.” She has also spoken about the affair on Twitter and the podcast Mistress for Congress. In the podcast, she claims that the affair began in 2009 and lasted more than a decade.

Horsford has not contested her claims.

“It is true that I had a previous relationship outside of my marriage, over the course of several years,” he told the Review-Journal. “I’m deeply sorry to all of those who have been impacted by this very poor decision, most importantly my wife and family. Out of concern for my family during this challenging time, I ask that our privacy is respected.”

District 4 spans North Las Vegas as well as large swaths of rural land. Horsford first held the seat from 2013 to 2015, losing it to a Republican before reclaiming it again in 2018.

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