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Spearman ousts incumbent Lee in Democratic primary

Updated Tuesday, June 12, 2012 | 9:50 p.m.

The Rev. Pat Spearman is seen inside her church, Resurrection Faith Community Ministries, in North Las Vegas Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011.

The Rev. Pat Spearman is seen inside her church, Resurrection Faith Community Ministries, in North Las Vegas Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011.

Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas

Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas

In an impressive show of force for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, was defeated Tuesday night by fellow Democrat Patricia Spearman.

With nearly the majority of the vote counted, Spearman chalked up an insurmountable double-digit lead over Lee.

Lee’s re-election bid was a key test for progressives, who after five years of state budget cuts and concessions on sacred cows like public employee bargaining, had felt Democrats in Carson City had drifted too far to the right. To do it, they had to take on their party’s establishment — Sen. Harry Reid had endorsed Lee.

Lee’s re-election provided the almost perfect test case for the liberal groups, led by Erin Neff of ProgressNow Nevada Action, environmentalists and lesbian and gay activists. His votes and bills in Carson City had drawn their ire.

This was the first time in memory that Nevada progressives have taken on an incumbent lawmaker.

But it was not without significant hurdles.

Lee had raised $200,000 and received the personal endorsement of Reid and other elected Democrats. Some groups that had battled with Lee in Carson City, like the state teachers union and AFL-CIO, decided to remain neutral in that race, figuring he would win.

But Spearman, a first-time candidate, swept the vote with the help of a passionate contingent from the Democratic base.

The progressives’ decision to take Lee out in the primary was a first for Democrats. It’s a move conservatives have used repeatedly and effectively to take out moderates in the Republican Party and send a message to the rest that the base can’t be taken for granted.

Some voters heeded the calls. Michelle Cody, of North Las Vegas, said she voted for Spearman.

"As many phone calls as I've gotten on this race, from both sides, I thought I better come vote,” she said.

Cody said Lee’s conservative stance on reproductive rights drove her decision.

“I do foster kids and I do teenagers and birth control is important,” she said.

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