Heller ekes out win in 2nd District race
Secretary of State Dean Heller barely defeated state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle in a hotly contested GOP primary battle for Nevada’s sprawling 2nd Congressional District seat that stretched into the early morning hours Wednesday.
Unofficial final tallies showed Heller had 24,781 votes, or 35.1 percent. Angle had 24,353 votes, or 34.5 percent – 428 less. Former Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons, wife of incumbent GOP Rep. Jim Gibbons, had 17,328 votes, or 25 percent.
“This is sweet. It could not have been any closer,” Heller said. “This thing broke in three different directions, but I believe the state Republican Party is going to rally around and we’re going to win in November.”
Angle issued a statement early Wednesday congratulating Heller “on what appears to be a close victory,” and promising more detailed comments after final results were reviewed.
“We’re not saying we’re calling for a recount, we just want to see the official final numbers,” said Jerry Stacy, a spokesman for the Angle campaign.
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.
In Nevada’s U.S. Senate race, incumbent GOP Sen. John Ensign and Democratic challenger Jack Carter, son of former President Jimmy Carter, easily grabbed their parties’ nominations for a November face-off. Each easily beat a lesser-known candidate.
Ensign, seeking his second six-year term, will be the general-election favorite over Carter, a Las Vegas investment consultant and first-time candidate.
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.
Heller said he was “not happy” that the Club For Growth had given Angle so much financial support. “I am very disappointed that a third party that has no interest and no connection with the state thought that in the last two weeks of the campaign they could come into the state and buy the race,” he said.
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.