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Nevada Primary Preview

The annual August exodus from Washington is in full swing, but politics -- and primaries -- continue on beyond the Beltway. Today Nevada voters head to the polls to select nominees for governor as well as an open congressional seat.

Here's a primer of what you need to know about the Silver State races on the ballot today. As always, this is not a comprehensive look at every race being contested, but rather a short look at the most important races.

The most competitive race in Nevada this fall will likely be in the 3rd District, but the party primaries are non-competitive. Tessa Hafen, a former staffer for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, faces a number of non-serious opponents today, while Rep. Jon Porter (R) is not being challenged.

Governor: The are contested primaries on both sides of the party divide. For much of the past year the Democratic race between state Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus and Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson has been considered the more competitive contest, with Rep. Jim Gibbons expected to coast to the Republican nomination.

But a Mason-Dixon poll released Sunday showed the Republican race narrowing. The survey showed Gibbons with a 41 percent to 31 percent edge over state Sen. Bob Beers. Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt trailed with 15 percent.

Beers appears to be enough of a threat to Gibbons that the congressman is attacking his credentials on fiscal conservatism, pointing out that the state senator voted himself a pay raise, has called for higher property taxes and voted for more than $13 billion in spending.

Our guess is that these ads and Gibbons's massive financial advantage will quell any momentum that Beers has built up, but the fact that the frontrunner was so easily dinged could bode poorly for Republicans in the fall.

On the Democratic side, Titus has long been considered the frontrunner, but many within the political establishment -- including some of those close to Sen. Reid -- believed that Gibson would run the better campaign and be the stronger general election candidate. That prediction has not come to pass as Titus held a 51 percent to 32 percent margin over Gibson in the new Mason-Dixon survey.

Titus appears to have gotten the better of the back and forth that has dominated the last six weeks of the campaign, and barring some sort of major event in the final day she should claim the nomination.

Should Gibbons and Titus win, this race will be a study in contrasts. Gibbons has already begun labeling Titus a liberal for her voting record in the state Senate; Titus is likely to cast Gibbons as a conservative ideologue with few accomplishments to show for his time in Washington. At the outset, Gibbons hold a lead according to Mason-Dixon, which gave him a 46 percent to 35 percent margin.

Nevada's 2nd District: The district being vacated by Gibbons is playing host to an extremely competitive three-way Republican primary between Secretary of State Dean Heller, Assemblywoman Sharron Angle and former Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons, who is Jim Gibbons's wife.

At the moment, it appears to be a two-person contest between Heller and Angle. The Mason-Dixon poll showed those two knotted at 32 percent while Gibbons had support from 19 percent. Sixteen percent of voters were undecided.

Angle is the candidate with the momentum -- thanks to considerable spending on her behalf by the Washington-based Club For Growth. The group has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to air ads attacking Heller and Gibbons as liberals and touting Angle as the lone dependable conservative in the race. Heller, who began the race as the frontrunner, has sought to paint Angle and Gibbons with that same brush. Gibbons is hoping that Angle and Heller split the conservative vote, but she has run an underfunded campaign to date.

On the Democratic side, University of Nevada Regent Jill Derby (D) has raised a considerable amount of money, but the 2nd District is a very tough one for her party. President Bush won the 2nd with 57 percent of the vote in 2004.

Nevada's top political report, Jon Ralston, recently made his own predictions.

Polls close in Nevada at 10 p.m. ET tonight. Check The Fix tomorrow for follow-up analysis on the winners. The Nevada Secretary of State will post returns online here.

By Chris Cillizza  |  August 15, 2006; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Governors , House  
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Posted by: John S | August 19, 2006 11:52 AM | Report abuse

I find it interesting that Jim Gibbons is the leading candidate for Governor but his wife has gone nowhere in her campaign to replace him in Congress. It makes him look weaker (considering how so many political hangers-on fall all over themselves trying to curry favor with people they see as winners).

Posted by: Staley | August 15, 2006 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Hi! Very interesting! pymbbtgal

Posted by: John S | August 15, 2006 3:56 PM | Report abuse

"Angle is the candidate with the momentum."

Thanks, Chris. It's nice to have a physics pun in a political chat.

Posted by: pj | August 15, 2006 2:24 PM | Report abuse

This is for Drindl: Do U have anything on the Jim Webb campaign?

Posted by: Lylepink | August 15, 2006 1:55 PM | Report abuse

McCain has taken to endorsing candidates in Republican primaries in states with early presidential primaries.

Have 2008 Democrats offered any opinions about the primary candidates in Nevada's races?

Posted by: peter | August 15, 2006 1:11 PM | Report abuse

mike w wrote: "Back to Nevada, any news on Jack Carter's attempt to unseat Ensign??"

Mason-Dixon (Aug 7-8)

Ensign* (R): 54%
Carter (D): 33%

Rasmussen (July 31)

Ensign* (R): 46%
Carter (D): 39%

Research 2000 (May 12-15)

Ensign* (R): 52%
Carter (D): 32%

Mason-Dison (May 3-5)

Ensign* (R): 60%
Carter (D): 27%

Posted by: Gaithersburg, MD | August 15, 2006 1:04 PM | Report abuse

I hate to go back to Joe but Nevada is just not the same big deal ... sorry folks but CT is really a more national and telling contest. Have you ever seen this before, where the president and the whole opposition party has come out for the other party's candidate over their own?

Of course, their candidate has a gambling addition, bad debts, etc., but still... Lieberman is a MOLE. There's no getting around it. He's gone to the neocon side and any Dem who votes for him is a fool.

'The real scoop is that Lieberman is the de facto GOP candidate. From MSNBC:

"Quite willing to speak was Bruce Bialosky, a leading Republican donor in California, who said he will raise more than $10,000 for Lieberman....On Tuesday night, once Lamont had defeated Lieberman, Bialosky sent an e-mail to the 2,000 people on his political list 'expressing my despair over Lieberman's loss in the primary' and making it clear he'd raise money for Lieberman's independent bid. 'I've never seen such a tremendous response' from his list, Bialosky said...A Republican campaign fund-raiser based in Washington, who spoke on condition that he not be identified by name, said, 'There's a definite sense among a significant number of the Republicans who I deal with that Joe Lieberman is a man of principle and a man we should support.' This fund-raiser said he'll contribute money to Lieberman's campaign and raise money for him."

Posted by: Drindl | August 15, 2006 12:10 PM | Report abuse

This may be a bit off topic, yet seems to fit. I thought of an old quote some years ago that goes thus [Do not insult the crocodile until you have crossed the river.]

Posted by: lylepink | August 15, 2006 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I don't think so Andy, it was just like Clinton trying to help Lieberman, didn't work. People make they're own choices about a particular candidate irregardless of who endorses them. One caveat: Reid's endorsement may scare off the opponent in fear he may wake up with his severed pet's head next to him on his bed.

Posted by: bhoomes | August 15, 2006 11:57 AM | Report abuse

I would disagree. Reid is pretty powerful in Nevada, and has the kind of name recogntition that can bring in huge donors. He won't do this however, for Carter since he and Ensign agreed to keep out of each other's races. But does that carry over into down ticket races too. I am just curious is all.

Posted by: Andy R | August 15, 2006 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Are bhoomes and zouk the same guy? they always come up with the most hilarious lines. Like a borscht belt comedian--where do they get this stuff?

Posted by: Drindl | August 15, 2006 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Andy; Reid's influence is mostly with organized crime bosses that operate casino's in his state. Outside of that, he has no influence whatsoever.

Posted by: bhoomes | August 15, 2006 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Drindl - Will's column is quite good, I agree, but he's not an arch conservative. His record of essays and articles place him as a firm fiscal conservative and a social moderate. Bill Kristol et al he is not.

Back to Nevada, any news on Jack Carter's attempt to unseat Ensign??

Posted by: mike w | August 15, 2006 10:40 AM | Report abuse

I see the evil Grover Norquist has his hand in this too. Isn't he under indictment for his dealings with Abramoff?

The arch-conservative George Will writes a surprisingly candid and astute column today:

'This farrago of caricature and non sequitur makes the administration seem eager to repel all but the delusional. But perhaps such rhetoric reflects the intellectual contortions required to sustain the illusion that the war in Iraq is central to the war on terrorism, and that the war, unlike "the law enforcement approach," does "work."

And the Right Blogosphere flips out on bush with rabid foaming bloodlust:

National Review:
If current trends continue, the Bush administration's project in the Middle East will require the same sort of expedient we have just seen in the Israel-Lebanon conflict: a papering over of what is essentially a failure.

Dan Richl
Our war President has turned out to be a disgrace. At this point in world history, the Islamofascists look like they deserve to win. In fact, they might.

Over at NRO's corner, John Podhoretz contends that this would mean the end of the Olmert government. I'm tempted to suggest that our government, having seemingly lost its will to oppose (or even to let others oppose) our deadliest enemies, deserves the same fate.

Heritage Foundation
If there is a clear winner in this war, it's Iran.

Loony Pam Atlas Oshry
Bush Administration Betrays Israel and America

Daily Pundit [winger blog]
What happened was one of the biggest failures of leadership in Presidential history.

Bush turned out to be singularly ill-equipped for this task, both by skill and by temperament.

--I love how all the wingers say the 'Islamofascists' deserve to win. Traitors to a man. You people are sick.

Posted by: Drindl | August 15, 2006 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone know if Ensign and Reid's non-conrontation pact carry over into the congressional races or not? It might be telling of Reid's influence in the state if he can get a couple D's elected this cycle.

Posted by: Andy R | August 15, 2006 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Survey USA
August 14

Dem Primary
Gibson 33%
McConnell 3%
Titus 57%

This is a significant widening of previous polls

Rep Primary
Beers 25%
Gibbons 47%
Hunt 17%

Improves on July numbers 23%-44%-16%

Posted by: RMill | August 15, 2006 9:02 AM | Report abuse

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