Heller, Angle in dead heat; Gibbons lags in 2nd District GOP race
WASHINGTON (AP) – Secretary of State Dean Heller was in a tight race Tuesday night with state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle in the hotly contested GOP primary in Nevada’s sprawling 2nd Congressional District.
With most of the votes counted, Heller had 20,743 votes, or 37 percent. Angle had 19,765 votes, or 35 percent. Former Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons, wife of incumbent GOP Rep. Jim Gibbons, had 14,061 votes, or 25 percent.
The GOP-friendly seat opened when Jim Gibbons chose to run for governor, a decision that was rewarded when he won Tuesday’s Republican gubernatorial primary.
The winner in the 2nd District primary will face longtime university system regent Jill Derby, who won the Democratic nomination unopposed.
Democrat Tessa Hafen, former aide to Sen. Harry Reid, won her party’s nod to take on incumbent Republican Rep. Jon Porter in the 3rd Congressional District. Porter, who’s seeking a third term, ran unopposed in the southern Nevada district that’s closely split between Republican and Democratic voters.
In a phone interview after polls closed, Porter predicted that despite a national climate of discontent with GOP leadership, the race would turn on local issues.
“I think that it’s a very serious time, and it’s time for very serious candidates. And having been a city councilman and state senator, having had my own business for 20 years, I believe I’m the right man for the job,” he said from Las Vegas. “It’s about local issues and local challenges and finding local solutions.”
Hafen said Porter had failed Nevada voters on issues including veteran’s care and energy prices. “He’s right, there are very serious issues we’re talking about in this campaign – issues that have not been addressed by people like Jon Porter who have been in office and who have failed to address those issues,” she said.
Incumbent Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley beat political unknown Asimo Lawlor for her party’s nomination in the 1st Congressional District, which encompasses the core of Las Vegas. Berkley will be heavily favored in her bid for a fifth two-year term over the winner of the GOP primary, Kenneth Wegner, a 2004 candidate for U.S. Senate.
Of all the congressional races, the 2nd district GOP primary attracted the most attention with three well-credentialed candidates battling for the nomination.
The 105,000-square-mile district, which covers Reno, Carson City and all of rural Nevada – most of the state except Las Vegas – has been occupied by a Republican since it was created 25 years ago. Second district voters preferred President Bush to Democrat John Kerry 57 percent to 41 percent in 2004.
Heller was first elected secretary of state in 1994 and has won praise for evenhandedness on the job. He raised more money than Gibbons and Angle and was seen as the front-runner until a recent independent poll showed Angle to have evened the race.
Angle, a Christian conservative who began serving in the Assembly in 1999, was endorsed by the conservative Club for Growth, a national group that seeks to elect conservatives and spent heavily to fund TV ads on her behalf. She also got advertising help from the Minuteman political action committee, which backs candidates opposed to illegal immigration.
Support from the Club for Growth boosted Angle’s claim to be the true conservative in the race, but all three candidates sought to wear that mantle, and they spent much of the campaign accusing each other of trying to raise taxes or spending.
Gibbons, who served in the Assembly from 1999 to 2003, benefited from her husband’s name recognition and popularity in the district he’s represented since he was first elected in 1996. But her campaign lagged as she was outspent by Heller and Angle and their supporters.