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Far-right, pro-Trump Republicans duel to face Rep. Horsford in Democrat-leaning district

Sean Golonka
Sean Golonka
Election 2022
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Steven Horsford waiving to a crowd

While Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) serves his constituents in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District out of an office in heavily Democratic North Las Vegas, his top Republican opponents are spreading throughout the state, trekking through Alamo and Pioche to meet the district’s rural voters.

Even after redistricting boosted the district's Democratic lean, the battle for District 4, where candidates seek to represent a wide-ranging, diverse group of voters stretching across seven counties, could prove an important measure of the depth of a potential red wave this election year.

The race for the state’s U.S. Senate seat and for neighboring Congressional District 3, a historically swingy jurisdiction, have typically garnered more attention and money from national interests. That trend has continued this year as Republicans hope to capitalize on President Joe Biden’s poor approval rating and sky-high inflation to unseat incumbent Democrats.

But in District 4 — where incumbent Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) faces his share of personal challenges and economic headwinds — political conditions could be enough to flip the district red for the second time in its nearly 12-year long history.

Democrats hold a 10.5-point voter registration advantage over Republicans in District 4, after redistricting saw more Democrats added to the district. Horsford won his most recent elections in the district by 5 and 8 points, respectively. 

Still, it’s not enough to convince political observers that Democrats have the election in the bag. The Cook Political Report recently moved its rating of the race to “toss-up,” and national Republicans see an opportunity for a pick-up, as midterm years typically yield losses in Congress for the sitting president’s party.

That’s why the House Majority PAC, the largest super PAC supporting House Democrats, plans to spend more on ads in Las Vegas than any other TV market, and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Republicans, is investing even more in the Las Vegas media market. A Republican victory this year in a traditionally blue district would be indicative of a deep red wave.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is backing Mesquite-based Assemblywoman Annie Black, who faces just two other opponents in the June primary — veteran and insurance firm owner Sam Peters, who finished second in the district’s 2020 Republican primary, and Chance Bonaventura, chief of staff to Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore.

Unlike the 2020 election, which saw eight Republican candidates, six Democratic candidates and two non-major party candidates file for District 4, this year’s race features the smallest list of candidates of any congressional race in Nevada, as just those three Republicans filed alongside Horsford.

Democrats maintain voter advantage in wide-ranging District 4

Nevada’s newest congressional district was first established after the 2010 U.S. census and reapportionment process, which granted fast-growing Nevada its fourth seat in the House. With massive geographic boundaries, District 4 encompasses a region larger than 17 states and roughly the size of Louisiana.

It stretches through parts of northwest Las Vegas, the city of North Las Vegas and the entire northern half of Clark County into rural, central Nevada. The district’s boundaries run from the California border to the Utah border, capturing Nye, Lincoln, Esmeralda and Mineral counties and portions of Lyon County. 

Despite the far-reaching borders, 91 percent of District 4 voters live in Clark County. And more than half of the district’s voting-age population is composed of people of color, including the largest share of Black or African American residents (18 percent) of any of the state’s congressional districts.

The population’s urban-tilt also makes it the state’s most heavily Democratic congressional district. In April, Democrats had a 10.5-point advantage in voter registration over Republicans — an increase from an 8.4-point lead at the time of the 2020 general election.

The improved edge comes after the November redistricting special session that saw more Democratic voters pulled into the district from previously deep blue District 1 under maps drawn by Democratic lawmakers and approved by Gov. Steve Sisolak. The change, which drew criticism from District 1 Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), gave Democrats a greater advantage in Districts 3 and 4, while making all three districts riskier for the party in control.

Following redistricting, the district no longer includes rural, Republican-heavy White Pine County, which lies centrally on the state’s eastern border.

In its short existence, the district has seen just five congressional elections, all but one won by Democrats. In 2012, Horsford, who then served as majority leader in the state Senate, won the district’s first election, defeating perennial Republican candidate Danny Tarkanian by 8 points. The following cycle, Republicans secured their only victory in District 4 history, as former legislator Cresent Hardy narrowly snagged a win over Horsford in a red wave year that saw Republicans sweep elections for statewide offices.

Since then, Democrats haven’t lost the district. In 2016, Ruben Kihuen, then a state senator, replaced Hardy, defeating the incumbent by 4 points. After Kihuen abandoned a re-election bid in 2018 amid sexual misconduct allegations, Horsford once again ran for District 4, dispatching several primary challengers before defeating Hardy by more than 8 points in the general election.

In 2020, Horsford won his third term, defeating Jim Marchant, a former state assemblyman, by roughly 5 points — even as Marchant made unfounded claims of voter fraud and made a failed bid for a re-vote.

A vulnerable incumbent

In a seat more difficult to flip than adjacent District 3, held by Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV), Horsford has amassed a hefty campaign war chest, while generally having to do little campaigning.

Horsford is a Las Vegas native who, for more than a decade, led the Culinary Training Academy before running for state Senate. In the Legislature, he became the first African-American and the youngest person to serve as Senate majority leader. In Congress, he serves as first vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and co-chair of the Labor Caucus.

This year, he faces no primary challengers, guaranteeing his slot in the November general election. As of the end of March, Horsford has $1.9 million in cash on hand — more than six times that of his top Republican opponent.

Despite those advantages, the incumbent will look to withstand his own set of obstacles, including an extramarital affair uncovered during the 2020 election cycle and party ties to a president with poor approval ratings.

Horsford’s opponents are renewing attacks about the affair, after his wife took to social media to air her grievances with the relationship and oppose the incumbent’s pursuit of re-election. Black tweeted an article about the affair, pointing to a section that alleged Horsford and his family have primarily resided in Arlington, Virginia, while Peters asked Horsford to forgo re-election.

“Congressman Horsford’s affair is not just a family issue. It also brings to question Steven’s integrity and is a deep violation of the public trust,” Peters said in a statement.

Candidates with low profiles jockey for position

While Horsford has maintained a significant presence in Nevada politics for nearly two decades, the three Republican candidates running for a chance to face the Democratic incumbent have far less name recognition.

But the two leading Republican candidates are not exactly unknown. Through a failed run for District 4 in 2020, Peters has already raised his profile among the district’s Republican voters. Though he lost in the primary that year, he finished second and came within 7 points of former Assemblyman Jim Marchant for the Republican nomination.

During both runs, he has portrayed himself as a staunchly pro-Trump conservative ready to “fight the socialists” in Washington, D.C.

Black, meanwhile, has served in office for more than three years, winning a Mesquite city council seat in 2018 and a seat in the Assembly in 2020. (Black’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.)

As a freshman Republican lawmaker in the Democrat-controlled Legislature, she had zero bills passed and rarely crossed party lines. But she made headlines for flouting COVID-19 rules in the Legislature and was censured by Democratic state lawmakers for not wearing a mask.

Like Peters, she has embraced the Trump wing of the Republican party, and she even attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in support of Trump at the nation’s capital on Jan. 6, 2021. Black said she did not participate in the riot that followed, which saw the former president’s supporters storm the Capitol building.

Despite her limited experience in state politics and anti-establishment messaging, Black has earned the backing of congressional Republicans.

She has also made up serious ground in the primary’s fundraising battle since launching her campaign in early January — about a year after Peters launched his campaign and began fundraising. Though Peters has outraised Black nearly two-to-one for the cycle as a whole, the assemblywoman brought in $200,000 more during the first quarter of this year and entered April with $90,000 more in cash on hand.

In her newsletter, Black criticized Peters for his political inexperience, while touting her own ranking as the state’s most conservative lawmaker based on ratings from the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

“Frankly, while Sam’s a nice enough guy who says all the right conservative things, he’s still a bit wet behind the ears politically. And this is no time for someone needing on-the-job-training,” she wrote. “If you vote for Sam, you’re rolling the dice. Because talk is cheap.”

Though Black handily won a race for Assembly District 19, which encompasses Mesquite and a large swath of eastern, rural Clark County stretching across the Nevada-Arizona border, she does not have the support of a few high-profile Mesquite residents. Al Litman, the city’s mayor, and Wes Boger, a Mesquite city councilman, endorsed Peters.

Peters remains the primary race’s fundraising frontrunner, and he has earned endorsements from the far-right ranks of the Republican party as well as the support of the Nevada Republican Party.

Bringing up the rear is Bonaventura, who has worked behind the scenes in Nevada politics for a decade. Bonaventura told The Nevada Independent that he believes work has given him a unique understanding of the district, having made thousands of phone calls and knocked doors across the valley.

A March poll of likely Republican primary voters commissioned by Peters’ campaign and conducted primarily through cell phone interviews by WPA Intelligence — a firm used by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and the Las Vegas Review-Journal — found Peters leading (33 percent) in a hypothetical primary competition, followed by Black (14 percent) and Bonaventura (5 percent).

But the results of the poll showed the candidates had little name recognition. More than 70 percent said they had never heard of Black, while 60 percent said they had never heard of Peters. Nearly half of respondents were undecided between the three candidates.

Sam Peters on the issues

Peters has placed a strong emphasis on immigration. In his first TV ad, a narrator states, Peters is “running for Congress to finish President Trump’s wall [and] stop illegal immigration.”

Republican candidate for Nevada's 4th Congressional District Sam Peters (Photo sourced from campaign website)

Peters’ website points to an 11-point plan to help end illegal immigration in the country, which includes finishing the border wall, ending the visa lottery system and increasing “penalties on businesses that knowingly hire illegal aliens.”

“We've got to stop the invasion of our country, because that's what it is,” he told The Nevada Independent. “We don't know who they are, what they're bringing, whether it's disease, whether it's an ideology that wants to destroy our country.”

Peters also placed an emphasis on reigning in government spending.

“This federal government has gotten so big and so out of control with everything that they're focused on, except for the safety and security of our country,” he said.

Peters earned an “A” rating on the Second Amendment from the Nevada Firearms Coalition PAC, and he has described himself as the race’s “law and order” candidate, earning an endorsement from the Public Safety Alliance of Nevada, a coalition of several law enforcement groups in the state.

On election security, Peters has strongly opposed the use of Dominion voting machines (used in most Nevada counties) and said he supports action taken by Nye and Esmeralda county commissioners, who have pushed for the removal of electronic voting machines and a switch to hand-counting ballots. Peters did not say whether he believes the 2020 election was legitimate.

“I think there is a lot of questions that still have gone unanswered,” he said. “I can't attest to the 2020 election … Here in Nevada specifically, did the voting machines have an impact on the actual who was elected and who wasn't? I can't say because we can't get the information.”

The Nevada secretary of state’s office has found no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

Annie Black on the issues

While Black has embraced right-wing positions on several prominent issues, decrying critical race theory and railing against masks and Biden, her campaigning has often focused on the economy and inflation.

An Axios story from November found that inflation made up a bigger share of Google searches in District 4 than in any other congressional district in the country. Black has referenced that metric in interviews, and she has often tweeted about high prices for gasoline and other goods in Nevada.

“Inflation is impacting more of CD4 and regardless of party, people in North Las Vegas and the rurals are suffering. It is impacting the people that make an average wage and are hitting these people the most who make up CD4. People are going to vote with their pocketbook,” Black told the Nevada Globe in March.

Republican candidate for Nevada's 4th Congressional District Annie Black (Photo sourced from campaign website)

She has aggressively tied the district’s incumbent to the sitting president, as Biden’s favorability numbers remain low.

“Steven Horsford, in addition to all his other baggage, is going to have to run in November with the disastrous Biden record – Bidenflation, Biden border crisis, Biden crime wave, Biden’s WWIII, etc. – wrapped around his neck,” she wrote in her March newsletter.

Black also supports ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and like Peters, wants to see the border wall completed. She also supports school choice, and said if elected, she would “stand up to the anti-gun lobby” as a pro-Second Amendment candidate. She’s been endorsed by Gun Owners of America, a firearms rights group.

Chance Bonaventura on the issues

Bonaventura has largely focused on federal spending and land issues, pointing out that more than 80 percent of Nevada land is federally owned (the highest rate in the country).

Bonaventura said he would push to have that land — excluding portions dedicated to national security, national parks and monuments and protecting endangered wildlife — returned to the state’s control, a change that he believes could help alleviate the state’s housing crisis and reduce red tape.

Republican candidate for Nevada's 4th Congressional District Chance Bonaventura (Photo sourced from campaign social media)

“Our ranchers and our farmers and our miners and all these people who have to go to the [Bureau of Land Management] and other agencies for permits … now they just go to the state, and the property tax revenue for the state would be immense,” he said.

Bonaventura, too, took issue with rapidly increasing inflation, placing some blame for rising prices on excessive government spending that stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding recession.

And like the other Republicans in the race, he is a proponent of finishing the border wall. Bonaventura also supports reigning in taxes and regulations, and minimizing the federal government’s role in schools.

On election security, Bonaventura said more needs to be done to ensure people can trust the country’s elections, including better protections for election software to protect from cyber attacks and improved security measures on mail ballots. He added that he thinks no election data should be sent out of the country until after the vote is certified in every state.

Registered voters in District 4 will have the chance to vote in the race’s primary election on June 14, or through mail ballots and in-person early voting beginning May 28.

To stay informed during election season, click here for The Nevada Independent’s election coverage.

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