Wednesday, June 15, 2016 | 2 a.m.
If the 2016 primary was supposed to be a clear reckoning for Republican candidates who supported the now-infamous 2015 tax package passed by the Nevada Legislature, it wasn’t.
Every competitive Republican primary race, from state Assembly up to Congress, grappled with the tax issue. On one hand, most Republicans in the state Assembly who voted for the $1.4 billion package prevailed. On the other, there were several decisive victories for anti-tax candidates up and down the ballot.
In perhaps the biggest and fiercest of the Republican contests, businessman Danny Tarkanian won over state Sen. Michael Roberson in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District.
Tarkanian had hit Roberson over his role in shepherding the tax package throughout the primary. And it wasn’t Roberson’s only stumbling block. Tarkanian started with a significant name-recognition advantage — owing to four previous runs for office and being the son of the late, beloved UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian — that Roberson never made up.
The race remained tense until the end, particularly after a Washington-based group pumped $1.6 million into advertising for Roberson and against his opponents.
“I’ve never been in a race where I felt more confident we would prevail at the end,” Tarkanian said in an interview Tuesday night. “But I was worried we’d drop a lot after those ads.”
The atmosphere at Tarkanian’s watch party with family and friends at Born and Raised in southwest Las Vegas was jovial as soon as it was announced that Tarkanian was leading in early voting and absentee ballots. But because the pro-Roberson money came at the end, the party stayed on pins and needles waiting for the results to begin rolling in.
Roberson congratulated Tarkanian on his victory in a “hard-fought race” in a statement Tuesday night.
"I would like to thank all of those that supported me and worked tirelessly on my behalf,” Roberson said. “I look forward to continuing my work as Senate Majority Leader and working to maintain Republican control of the state Senate in November.”
The other high-profile Republican win Tuesday night was for Republican Rep. Joe Heck in his U.S. Senate race. Heck had long been favored for the nomination, but previous U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle threatened to shake things up when she entered the race this spring.
Still, Angle raised and spent little money on her campaign compared to Heck, and he ultimately won a significant victory.
Heck called the win “humbling” in a phone interview Tuesday night.
“It’s been very beneficial for us as we’ve traveled all 17 counties,” Heck said. “That’s what’s helped us in those areas. They’ve been able to talk with me directly, express what their concerns are about the future of our state and our nation.”
Angle’s campaign did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Down the ballot, most Republican incumbents who voted for the tax package kept their seats, with a few exceptions. One of those was Assemblyman Glenn Trowbridge, who faced a significant loss to Jim Marchant in Assembly District 37.
But for the most part, Assembly Majority Leader Paul Anderson said he was happy with the outcome of the primary.
“There was a sense rolling up into this that there would be some sort of referendum on the incumbents, but I don’t think we saw that at all,” Anderson said. “Districts side by side with similar demographics performed differently based on the candidates that were there.”
Anderson had been watching the races of assemblymen David Gardner and Stephen Silberkraus closely going into Tuesday, but both candidates won their primaries handily.
The tax issue had also played out in the most hotly contested Senate race, between Victoria Seaman and Erv Nelson, who’d come down on opposite sides of the tax vote while serving in the Assembly in 2015. (Seaman voted against it; Nelson voted for it.)
Nelson outraised Seaman and had the support of Gov. Brian Sandoval, but Seaman ultimately claimed the victory.
“We went door to door, met with people and kept our message on policy almost through the whole campaign,” said Seaman, reached by phone Tuesday night. “I think that people really saw through all the negative ads and desperation and really looked at the stuff I accomplished in Carson City.”
Seaman said that she “cannot wait” to turn toward the general election, where she faces Democrat Nicole Cannizzaro, and that she looked forward to running on her strong record. Cannizzaro congratulated Seaman on Twitter late Tuesday night.
Nelson’s campaign manager said that Nelson was spending “much needed time” with his family after the primary.
Tuesday night also proved a victory for someone not running in the primary: Sen. Harry Reid. The three Democrats he backed for federal office coasted to victory Tuesday night.
“Nevada’s diversity is our strength, and Democrats up and down the ballot represent every corner of our great state,” Reid said in a statement. “This is Nevada’s new generation of leaders — and they are why we will win in November.”
Perhaps the biggest of the three victories was for state Sen. Ruben Kihuen, who faced intense competition in his bid for the state’s 4th Congressional District from former Assemblywoman Lucy Flores and philanthropist Susie Lee. Kihuen’s victory ended up being wider than expected, significantly outpacing Flores and Lee in votes.
Speaking to a crowd of about 200 supporters that included union workers clad in red shirts, Kihuen thanked Reid — his mentor — for “giving him a chance” in politics, and former President Bill Clinton for his endorsement.
He also took aim at his opponent, Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy — who handily won his Republican primary in the district — saying that he would do a better job “looking out for the working class.”
In an interview Tuesday night, Kihuen attributed his win to running a “more organized” campaign than Flores or Lee.
Jonathan Pattillo, Lee’s campaign manager, said in a phone interview that the primary results "did not go as well as the campaign would have liked," but that Lee would be supporting Kihuen in the general election.
Flores’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Reid’s support also played a key role in Henderson synagogue leader Jacky Rosen’s race in the 3rd Congressional District. Rosen, a first-time congressional candidate, was virtually unknown to voters when she started her campaign early this spring.
Standing outside Coronado High School in the warm morning heat during voting, Henderson resident Michele Topol, 66, said that seeing Reid’s endorsement on Rosen’s mailers ultimately persuaded her to support the first-time congressional candidate.
“I saw that Harry Reid supported her,” Topol said. “I like Harry Reid, so that was enough for me.”
Reached by phone at her office Tuesday night, Rosen said she was “really proud, really excited” to receive her party’s nomination.
“I have the most amazing team that came here from all around the country, hit the ground running, and really propelled me and helped me get my message out to win,” Rosen said.
She said she planned to “relish in the moment” tonight, get some sleep, and then hit the ground running tomorrow with her campaign for the general election.
Rosen’s most notable competitor in the race was Henderson attorney Jesse Sbaih, who said he was “proud of the effort” his campaign staff put in though the results were disappointing.
“Unfortunately it did not work out, but I’ll continue to be involved and help in every way possible,” Sbaih said in a phone interview.
U.S. Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto didn’t face significant competition from any Democrats in her primary, but said in a statement she was “extremely thankful” for Nevadans’ support.
Other notable wins on Tuesday night include Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod’s triumph over Zach Conine in the Democratic primary in Assembly District 34 and William McCurdy II’s victory over three other Democratic opponents in Assembly District 6.
Rep. Dina Titus also won her Democratic primary as she seeks reelection in the state’s 1st Congressional District.
Las Vegas Sun reporter Chris Kudialis contributed to this report.