RENO, Nev. (AP) — Gov. Brian Sandoval steamrolled to victory Tuesday in the Nevada gubernatorial primary, leading a sweep for mainstream Republicans over conservative challengers and pushing his pick for lieutenant governor over the top.
The state's first Hispanic governor should have an easy path to his second term after the Democratic primary winner emerged from a field of eight, but couldn't beat out "none of these candidates" as voters' top selection.
In a key congressional race, Republican state Assemblyman Cresent Hardy bested tea party strategist Niger Innis for the 4th District nomination to face Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford, the state's first black congressman, who easily won his swing district primary.
In the closely watched lieutenant governor's race, state Sen. Mark Hutchison defeated one-time U.S. Senate hopeful Sue Lowden, who lost the 2010 primary to tea party darling Sharron Angle in the race for Sen. Harry Reid's seat.
Sandoval's popularity has many Republicans wanting him to serve only half of a final term and run in 2016 against Reid, the Democratic majority leader.
In addition to carrying nearly 90 percent of the GOP primary vote, his stranglehold on the governor's mansion was visible in the Democratic primary where eight political unknowns struggled in relative obscurity after party leaders failed to recruit a serious contender.
Robert Goodman, a former state economic development commissioner from Las Vegas, emerged as the unlikely Democratic winner with 25 percent of the vote — about 3,700 votes behind "none of these candidates," which took 30 percent of the vote with 92 percent of the precincts reporting.
Goodman loaned his campaign the only $25,000 it reported to the secretary of state May 20. The Democratic field had raised less than $100,000 combined, compared to Sandoval's $3 million campaign chest
In addition to congratulating Hutchison, Sandoval issued a statement touting Hardy's victory over Innis, saying the Mesquite construction manager has "served Nevadans well" in the Legislature.
Sandoval also singled out a pair of Senate incumbents who withstood anti-establishment challenges from the right — Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson of Henderson and assistant Senate floor leader Ben Kieckhefer of Reno.
Seeking the lieutenant governor's post, Hutchison will face Democrat Lucy Flores, a two-term assemblywoman from Las Vegas who also easily won her primary with more than 70 percent of the vote. Flores has U.S. Sen. Harry Reid's support to become Nevada's first black lieutenant governor.
Hutchison said he and Sandoval will run as a team in a "dual campaign."
"We have a very similar governing philosophy," he said. Sandoval "is popular for a reason" and puts "Nevadans first."
Sandoval, meanwhile, dismisses speculation he may have his sights set on higher office. "Serving as your governor is an honor and I look forward to campaigning for another four-year term," he said in a statement Tuesday night.
But voter Chris Cook, a Reno stock broker, said the possibility of a Senate run was one of the main reasons he went out in 90-degree heat to cast his primary ballot Tuesday.
"I voted for Hutchison because I think Sandoval is going to end up running against Harry Reid in 2016, so really it's like you are voting for governor," Cook said.
Democrat Erin Bilbray, daughter of four-time U.S. Rep. James Bilbray, coasted to a primary victory in her bid to unseat second-term GOP Rep. Joe Heck, who faced no primary challenge.
Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei also went unchallenged. He will be a heavy favorite to win a third term in a GOP-dominated 3rd District, which spans most of northern Nevada. He'll face Incline Village attorney Kristen Spees who emerged as the winner Tuesday night among four Democratic candidates with no prior political experience.
In the 1st District, U.S. Rep. Dina Titus scored an easy victory and is expected to sail to victory in November, bolstered by a wide 2-to-1 Democratic registration advantage.
Dr. Annette Teijeiro will challenge Titus after winning a competitive GOP primary by defeating lawyer Jose Padilla. Both came from immigrant families and competed in a congressional district that is 43 percent Latino.
Despite opportunities to vote on a range of races, Nevada residents largely ignored the primary election. Secretary of State Ross Miller reported that voter turnout was 19 percent.
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