Tuesday, June 12, 2012 | 9:05 p.m.
In all, it was a good night for incumbents and political legacies in Nevada.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley and Republican Sen. Dean Heller easily brushed aside a slate of unknown challengers to win their respective Nevada Senate primaries Tuesday night.
Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, former U.S. Rep. Dina Titus and state Senate Majority Leader Steve Horsford all headed to the general election after drawing no primary challengers.
Republican Rep. Joe Heck also easily moved on to the general election in his re-election bid for the 3rd Congressional District where he will face Democratic Assembly Speaker John Oceguera.
The predictable victories Tuesday night put the focus back on Nevada's major general election battle, the U.S. Senate race. Early voter returns showed Heller besting four other Republicans, while Berkley was trumping four rivals in their primary fights. Their Nov. 6 contest is one of a few in the nation that could determine whether Democrats keep control of the U.S. Senate and it is expected to be a tight one.
Heller was appointed to the Senate last year after disgraced Republican John Ensign resigned. Heller served as Nevada's secretary of state before being elected to the U.S. House to represent northern Nevada in 2006. Berkley was first elected to represent Las Vegas in 1998.
"This election has enormous consequences for our state and our country," Heller said in a victory statement. "Right now, far too many Nevadans are unsure of the opportunities they can provide for their children and grandchildren."
Heck's general election contest against Oceguera also shapes up as a nail-biter. Oceguera bested five Democrats to earn his slot in the November general election, while Heck easily fended off one Republican rival, according to early voter returns.
Oceguera and Heck were expected to win their primary contests and the two have been sparring for months over who is best equipped to put Nevada's troubled economy back on track. Nevada tops the nation in unemployment and has high foreclosures and bankruptcy rates.
"I know this election will not be about party politics. It will be about our priorities," Oceguera said in a statement. "With so many of our friends and neighbors suffering, we have to get our economy back on track — and we do that by balancing the budget the right way."
Horsford's general election opponent in the 4th Congressional District race remained unknown late Tuesday. The 4th District GOP primary pitting state Sen. Barbara Cegavske against businessmen Danny Tarkanian and Dan Schwartz was the race to watch. Tarkanian had the most name recognition, but Cegavske was in a virtual dead heat with the son of former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian.
It's unlikely the 4th District race will help Republicans keep the U.S. House. Horsford benefits from name recognition after many years in Carson City. The district's sharp Democratic leanings also suggest a difficult battle for any Republican candidate, and many GOP leaders acknowledge the odds are against them.
Republican's best hopes for winning the district will be rallying voters in the rural counties and hoping large numbers of Democrats stay home.
"Pretty much anything can happen when you have low turnout," said Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director for the conservative-leaning Nevada Policy Research Institute.
The newly created district stretches across Clark, Esmeralda, Lincoln, Lyon, Mineral, Nye and White Pine counties. Nevada gained the district after the 2010 Census count showed the state's population had been the fastest-growing in the nation.
Tarkanian raised the most cash in the Republican primary and could use those dollars to force Horsford to take him seriously. Democrats are all in behind Horsford, but Republican leaders including Heck and Amodei endorsed Cegavske over Tarkanian.
"He's an outsider to the establishment," said Jeri Taylor-Swade, a tea party activist. "They choose not to give him any money and they pretty much cut him off at the knees as for as funding goes."
Amodei and Titus are all but guaranteed a victory in November. Amodei is safe in the largely Republican region, while the 1st Congressional District in Las Vegas is Titus' for the taking because it leans so heavily Democratic. A Democrat has never won Amodei's 2nd Congressional District.
Nevada is a closed primary election state. Only registered Democrats were able to vote in Democratic primaries, while Republicans decided the GOP primaries.
Election officials said few voters turned out Tuesday.
Dan Burk, Washoe County's registrar of voters, said he had hoped at least one in five registered voters cast primary ballots.
"But right now we are struggling to see if we are going to get the 20 percent," he said Tuesday afternoon before polls closed.
Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller took to Twitter to poke fun of the low turnout.
"There were more people waiting in line for root canals than waiting to vote today," he tweeted.
AP writer Scott Sonner contributed to this report.