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October 18, 2017

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Will voters send a message, or did a campaign fail?

Election returns

  • Check tonight for election returns and find analysis of the results.

At the polls

  • Polls are open today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Registered voters who don't know their polling place can find it here.

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Sun Coverage

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Sharron Angle speaks during a debate among the Republican U.S. Senate candidates on "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" at the KVBC studios in Las Vegas Tuesday, May 18, 2010.

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Candidate Danny Tarkanian speaks during a debate among the Republican U.S. Senate candidates on "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" at the KVBC studios in Las Vegas Tuesday, May 18, 2010.

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Sue Lowden smiles during a debate among the Republican U.S. Senate candidates on "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" at the KVBC studios in Las Vegas Tuesday, May 18, 2010.

Tea Party takes over GOP. Establishment wins. Republicans choose ideology over pragmatism.

Be warned of sweeping pronouncements tonight.

Plenty of instant analysis will be offered up after the polls close on the Primary Election at 7 p.m. Some will be smart. And some will look for too sweeping a narrative to fit the results, which aren’t always so accommodating.

Any look at the results should be tempered with an understanding that behind them lies a number of factors. While these surely include the mood of the electorate, national trends and the economy, it also matters how well individual campaigns and candidates executed.

If former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle wins, as the polls predict, is it because of the Tea Party movement, which has largely backed her? Or is it because the one-time front-runner, Sue Lowden, mentioned chickens?

What if Gov. Jim Gibbons loses, becoming the first Nevada incumbent governor to lose a primary? Does that mean voters are not as anti-tax as we thought? Or because of an anti-incumbent mood has taken root during the recession? Or because his rocky first term was too much for voters to overlook?

The Tea Party movement has gotten a lot of attention nationally and locally as a potential force in this election.

Angle was endorsed by the Tea Party Express and has attempted to claim the mantle. Yet an Angle victory wouldn’t necessarily prove that Tea Partyers decide elections.

The Tea Party Express — a national professional group — and the grass-roots Tea Party movement are two different things.

And Chuck Muth, a conservative activist, notes that the grass-roots Tea Party groups in the state never coalesced behind a single candidate in the Republican U.S. Senate primary, so there’s little to judge their effectiveness on. Angle, who has significant support among the conservative base, was passed over by some of these Tea Party groups in Nevada, including Action is Brewing.

Tea Party Nation, another national group, put out a reminder Monday that “not ALL Tea Partyers support Sharron Angle.” It said Danny Tarkanian is “every bit a conservative and constitutional patriot” as Angle.

“They’ve never rallied around any candidate,” Muth said, whether it’s for U.S. Senate, or Congress or governor.

So if we can’t get a verdict on the Tea Party movement today, what can we learn?

David Damore, professor of political science at UNLV, said one lesson will be that “the quality of the campaign matters.”

He said Lowden has made so many missteps that she fell from grace.

“None of them are the ideal candidates,” he said. “It comes down to organization.”

Another lesson: Out-of-state groups can swing an election, particularly one with low turnout and in a state, like Nevada, where TV ads can be bought on the cheap, relatively speaking.

The Tea Party Express and Club for Growth have been running pro-Angle, anti-Lowden ads, while Patriot Majority — a group with Democratic ties — has been airing anti-Lowden ads.

“They’ve been allowing Angle to sort of get a free ride,” Damore said. “She hasn’t had to run any negative ads.”

In the governor’s race, an outside group with connections to Democrats got involved in the GOP primary, attacking front-runner Brian Sandoval. Sandoval is expected to win, though he had to spend money to do it.

Also at stake today in the Republican primary are four Republican state Senate seats, in which hard-line conservative candidates promising not to raise taxes are facing off against more moderate establishment candidates.

These races will have an effect on the makeup of the Legislature in 2011 and the policy that is made. But even there, take caution over how much to make of the results.

Consider state Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, who is seeking what would be his final term. He’s up against a newcomer, Elizabeth Halseth, who raised little money but signed the anti-tax pledge. If Halseth wins, does that mean the voters hate taxes more than they did four years ago when they elected Nolan? Or that the base was sending a message to Carson City not to raise taxes?

More likely, if Nolan loses it is because he offered a personal defense of a convicted rapist at trial. After he was attacked for his subpoenaed testimony during the campaign, he left the victim’s sister a voice mail in which he said there would be financial benefits if she came forward and told the “truth.”

After the voice mail was made public, Nolan said he was never going to pay money, but instead would have worn a wire in a homemade sting operation.

The lessons? Sometimes ideology matters. Sometimes national moods and movements matter. Sometimes, though, a campaign just shoots itself.

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