John Locher / AP
Friday, June 8, 2018 | 2 a.m.
RENO — All eyes are on Republican Sen. Dean Heller's re-election bid, but hanging onto a pair of Democratic U.S. House seats up for grabs in Nevada could be key to the party's effort to shrink GOP majorities in Congress.
Rep. Jacky Rosen's departure from the 3rd District race to challenge Heller in the Senate, and Rep. Ruben Kihuen's decision to forgo re-election in the 4th District amid allegations of sexual misconduct puts both seats in play in the swing state.
The road to victory begins in Tuesday's primaries where two ex-congressmen — Democrat Steven Horsford and Republican Cresent Hardy — are expected to emerge victorious and set up a rematch of their 2014 contest. Hardy unseated Horsford in the 4th District stretching north of Las Vegas through four rural counties.
In the 3rd District covering much of suburban Las Vegas, Republican Danny Tarkanian is expected to face wealthy Democratic philanthropist Susie Lee in Nevada's most expensive House race in November. Tarkanian succumbed from pressure from President Donald Trump and others in March to abandon his campaign to knock off Heller in the Senate primary. Lee has been endorsed by former Vice President Joe Biden.
Democrats have to pick up at least 23 seats nationwide to win back control of the House.
"I think the optimism that Democrats would have a big wave has softened a bit," said Fred Lokken, chairman of the political science department at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno. "But here in Nevada, we know there is this rule of thumb that whatever party wins the presidency, they tend to get hit hard two years later."
Both districts "were designed to be toss-ups," Lokken said. "I think the 3rd is a little more vulnerable to the Republican takeover than the 4th, which tends to lean more Democratic."
The only incumbent believed to face a potentially serious primary challenge is fourth-term Republican Rep. Mark Amodei in northern Nevada's 2nd District, where no Democrat has won since its creation in 1980.
Sharron Angle, a tea party favorite who lost to Sen. Harry Reid in 2010, has railed against Amodei's willingness to consider amnesty for immigrants living in the country illegally. Angle's badly outspent campaign has failed to gain traction and the Federal Election Commission notified her this week that she's delinquent on a campaign spending report due May 23.
By March 31, she had raised $13,625 with $9,415 cash on hand. In comparison, Amodei raised $762,716 with $307,648 still in the bank May 23.
The Democratic primary will be more competitive, but the closest a Democrat has come to winning there was Jill Derby's 2006 loss to then-Rep. Heller 50 percent to 45 percent. Amodei beat Democrat Chip Evans in 2016, 58 percent to 37 percent.
This year's Democratic challengers include: Rick Shepherd, a Bernie Sanders-backer who lost the 2016 primary; Clinton Koble, an Obama-era appointee to the Agriculture Department who has picked up some labor endorsements; and Patrick Fogarty, a molecular geneticist who started a biotech company before moving to Reno from Arizona in 2006 and has loaned $152,000 to his own campaign.
As of May 23, Fogarty had spent only $12,118 of his $168,705 total. Shepherd raised $36,095 with $14,995 cash on hand. Koble raised $53,672 but reported his campaign was $190 in debt.
Lee, a Las Vegas fundraiser for education and disadvantaged women, lost in the 2016 primary to Kihuen in the neighboring 4th District. She's collected $1.4 million and endorsements from Emily's List and national abortion-rights groups. She faces largely unknown challengers.
Tarkanian, son of former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, has raised $1.1 million and enjoys widespread name recognition after winning primaries but losing all five general elections, including to Rosen in 2016 by fewer than 4,000 votes.
His GOP primary challengers include state Sen. Scott Hammond, who won the National Rifle Association's endorsement before Tarkanian changed races. Tarkanian has traditionally enjoyed NRA support. Hammond raised $262,329 but only had $53,755 left three weeks before the primary.
The 4th District favorites have raised similar amounts — Horsford $359,899 and Hardy $316,033. But Horsford has been forced to spend all but $66,330 against four challengers — including state Sen. Pat Spearman, an African-American and the first openly lesbian legislator. Hardy, who faces lesser-known underfunded challengers, reported $276,801 cash remaining last month.
First District Rep. Dina Titus of Las Vegas, who's all but assured of winning a fifth term, has outraised her sole Democratic challenger, Clark County school teacher Reuben D'Silva, by a ratio of nearly 5-to-1. Her campaign has spent $216,328 but has $349,285 cash leftover from previous campaigns. Republicans Joyce Bentley and Fred Horne haven't reported fundraising.