Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012 | 5:31 p.m.
State Sen. Allison Copening, D-Las Vegas, will not run for reelection in one of the key battleground districts that will decide control the Legislature’s upper house.
The Democratic Senate Caucus today endorsed for the seat Benny Yerushalmi, a businessman who ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 2010.
Republicans, in turn, endorsed Mark Hutchison, an attorney best known for being selected by Gov. Jim Gibbons to argue the state’s case against the new federal health care law.
Democrats control the state Senate by the slimmest of margins — 11 seats to 10.
Copening’s District 6 in Las Vegas and Henderson’s District 5 — currently held by state Sen. Shirley Breeden, a Democrat who also won’t seek reelection — are the two races that will decide which party controls the state Senate.
Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, will seek to replace Breeden against former Henderson City Councilman Steve Kirk, a Republican.
Democrats have a slight voter registration advantage in both districts. But Republicans have argued that a lack of enthusiasm among Democrats gives them an opening.
Copening unseated Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, in 2008 in a highly contentious race that wrested control of the Senate from Republicans. Democrats and independent groups spent over $2.5 million on influencing voters in Copening’s and Breeden’s races that year. The Democrats also benefited from strong turnout driven by President Barack Obama’s campaign.
Copening said in a statement that she will pursue a future business venture and focus on nonprofit work.
Senator Mo Denis, chairman of the Nevada Senate Democrats campaign efforts, said in a statement that he was “saddened” at the announcement.
But privately some Democrats said they believe Yerushalmi will be a stronger candidate. He was highly touted among business lobbyists and party leadership before his 2010 loss to state Sen. Elizabeth Halseth.
Copening, meanwhile, became mired in controversy during the 2011 Legislature, when it came to light that she had authored homeowner association bills while being employed by a homeowners association.