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Ralston/Sebelius: Primary Winners, Losers And The Judge


AP Photo/John Locher

A woman walks out of a polling place after voting in the Nevada primary election, Tuesday, June 14, 2016, in Las Vegas.

The vote are in, the primary elections are over. And the results?

In a nutshell, establishment candidates did much better than expected, given the support candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have seen.

At the state level, it was a mixed bag. Some lawmakers who voted for higher taxes to improve schools won, some lost. But the big supporters won handily.

And the Reid Machine appears to be well-oiled and doing fine, even as U.S. Sen. Harry Reid eyes retirement in seven months.

Then, for once, voters knew something about a judicial candidate -- and made him pay for what they knew.


No surprises in the race for the Senate seat Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is vacating:

Ralston: Heck is going to be running against Harry Reid. Catherine Cortez-Masto is going to be running against Joe Heck and Donald Trump. That’s the essence of the campaigns.

In the race for Congressional District 4, Ruben Kihuen defeated Lucy Flores and Susie Lee:

Ralston: Ruben Kihuen won because of the Culinary Union and Harry Reid and they’re both related. Reid embraced him early, therefore the Culinary went with him. They did a fantastic job of turning out the early vote. The race was over after the early vote posted. Lucy Flores got that late cash infusion from Bernie Sanders but I don’t think she spent the money necessarily that wisely. But I don’t know if all the money in the world could have saved her from the Culinary onslaught.

Support comes from

What sparked the Culinary Union to get more involved?

Ralston: I think what happened in 2014 really embarrassed them, when they lost one of their own essentially, Steve Horsford in Congressional District 4. And their ineffectiveness was emblematic of the Democratic Party’s ineffectiveness in 2014. Essentially, they were asleep at the switch. The sleeping giant awoke and showed everybody what it can do.

The Culinary Union was focused only on that race. There was some effort to help Marilyn Kirkpatrick retain her seat on the Clark County Commission. But this was an all Ruben Kihuen effort to show people: look we are still the most potent grassroots political force in this state. And boy did they do it! A lot of people thought that race was going to be close. It was a landslide for Ruben Kihuen.

What happened in the race to replace Joe Heck in Congressional District 3?

Sebelius: I think there were a lot of factors in play, not the least of which was [Roberson’s] vote for SB483 (the bill passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval that increased taxes to pay for education). Not just his vote for SB483, but the fact that his leadership made that vote possible. It would not have happened without Michael Roberson.   

There is another factor. This Donald Trump factor with a year that incumbents are not going to do well. People don’t want politicians as usual. Danny Tarkanian has run for office now this is his fifth official time doing it. They didn’t hold that against him. He was an outsider and he attacked Roberson as an outsider.

How did other Republican lawmakers who supported the governor’s tax increase for education do in the primaries?

Sebelius: As I suspected it was going to be, it is a mixed bag. Michael Roberson lost in CD3. Erv Nelson lost in State Senate District 6. He voted for it. His opponent Victoria Seaman did not. You had a couple of other incumbents, Glenn Trowbridge, P.K. O’Neill, lose their races primarily because of this. But overall the incumbents who voted for this tax, even though they were targeted for doing so, most of them survived this attack. The Speaker of the Assembly John Hambrick, David Gardener who wrote that bill about breaking up the Clark County School District, Paul Anderson the majority leader. It is amazing, we should note, that all of these officers, these leaders of the Republican Party, are being challenged in their own party and Melissa Woodbury, James Oscarson other folks who survived. Stephen Siberkraus and Derek Armstrong, the taxation chairman, who started out not supporting but who eventually did support it.

The opposition leader, Brent Jones, came very close to losing his own seat – 61 votes. And may yet lose it in November.     

Who is Jackie Rosen and how did she win against other candidates by such a wide margin?

Ralston: I had never heard of Jackie Rosen either before this cycle. Neither had Harry Reid who went through about 2,800 candidates before he got to her, mostly big names. He tried to get a really strong candidate in that race because they really want to take that open seat thanks to Joe Heck.

Jackie Rosen didn’t do much. She sent out some mail. She did not run TV. She’s actually impressed me in the early going with some of her appearances, including on my program and in some debates. She’s much more prepared than most first-time candidates and she really didn’t have a credible candidate against her.   

What I would say about Jackie Rosen is she is still pretty much an unknown quantity, but she really didn’t have much of a race as some might have thought, because Jesse Sbaih was just not a real candidate.

Is this Danny Tarkanian’s year to get elected? He’s tried six times to get elected to an office:

Ralston: This is his sixth race that he’s going to be in. He has lost all of the general elections. He’s an underdog in [Congressional District 3] too. The Democrats are absolutely thrilled that he got the nomination over Michael Roberson. They wanted Roberson to lose because they know that Roberson would have been a solid favorite to win the general election. Tarkanian has a lot of baggage to deal with. He ran his best race yet, very good strategy, very focused. He survived a $1.6 million TV and digital buy by a dark money group to try to save Roberson. Not only did he survive it, he still won the race quite handily.  

Very little attention is paid to races for judge. In fact, most people don’t even know anything about who the judges are. That was not the case with Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen:

Sebelius: Here you have a judge who gets into some kind argument or tete-a-tete with a public defender in his courtroom. Orders this person to be cast irons, essentially, handcuffed and seated in the jury box - as if he was going to charge her with contempt - he ultimately did not charge her with contempt and let her continue.

Because people don’t know much about judges what they do is they ask their friends who are lawyers, ‘Hey, who should I vote for?’ Lawyers took a particular offense to what this judge did. They viewed it as a gross abuse of his discretion and must have told a lot of friends, ‘don’t vote for this guy.’ Here you have one of the swiftest examples of justice that I’ve seen on the ballot in a long time.

Why are you so sure Michele Fiore will never win another race in Nevada?

Ralston: Well, I shouldn’t be so unequivocal because it is Nevada. But Michele Fiore has created more issues for herself than anyone in such a short time that I can remember. She has huge negatives among Republicans, which showed up in that primary, and that is why she finished in third. Could she possible find a race that she could win? I understand the mosquitos need overlooking in one of the rural counties and that’s an elective office maybe that is one she could win. But she will never win a race that is for a serious office in Nevada – never.

Why did Marilyn Kirkpatrick trounce Steve Ross to keep her seat on the Clark County Commission?

Sebelius: You’ve got a lot of money and a lot of spending in that race. Marilyn Kirkpatrick is the appointed incumbent and as a result of that she was able to raise a lot of money and just pound him with negative ads.

Who wins the U.S. Senate race? Cortez-Masto or Heck?

Ralston: I can’t pick anybody in that race right now. I would say that it leans slightly toward Catherine Cortez-Masto because of the Hispanic turnout and Donald Trump being at the top of the ticket.

Sebelius: It’s hard to pick right now. Joe Heck does have the millstone that is Donald Trump hanging around his neck. But, I would give a slight edge to Heck in this race going forward. If he can separate himself from Donald Trump and believe me there will be many opportunities for him to do that. If he finds the courage to say ‘I don’t like the front runner. I don’t like this guy at all. I may not even vote for him.’ Then I think that accrues to his benefit. He is a very disciplined campaigner. This is a very unpredictable year. Heck may yet benefit from the voters that Trump brings to the polls. He’s got to play that narrowly, but a slight edge goes to him.      



Jon Ralston, Reno Gazette-Journal columnist; host, Ralston Live on VegasPBS; Steve Sebelius, Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist; host, Politics Now on KLAS

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