Republicans eye competitive state Senate primary races as potential flips
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part preview of Nevada's legislative elections. For a look at competitive Assembly primary races, see the second installment here.
The battles in Nevada’s state Senate primaries could be a deciding factor in whether Democrats maintain their trifecta of control or Republicans take charge of the upper legislative chamber for the first time since 2015.
Democrats hold 11 of 21 seats in the state Senate, but Republicans are eyeing several of those seats as potential flips, given the likelihood of favorable national conditions for the GOP. Nevada state senators serve staggered four-year terms.
Though Democrats are expected to maintain control of both houses after building structural advantages in voter registration through the redistricting process, Republicans are hoping to prevent a two-thirds supermajority (14 seats) that could have implications for tax increases which could, in turn, affect education and other policy matters.
Even so, a combination of term limits and political differences are widening divisions within parties, pitting conventional party-line candidates against more radical ones in the primaries. Ideological splits within the parties could affect the ability of the caucuses to have a unified policy approach and result in the introduction of more extreme measures.
Seven of the 11 state Senate seats up in 2022 promise competitive primaries, including a mix of Democratic caucus-endorsed candidates running against teacher union-backed candidates and Republican candidates with more moderate perspectives taking a stance against more right-leaning ones.
The dynamics are playing out in Northern Nevada’s Senate District 13 primary, where Democratic caucus-endorsed candidate Skip Daly is set to face off against Nnedi Stephens, who received an endorsement from the Nevada State Education Association.
They also include a race in rural, heavily Republican Senate District 17, pitting Assemblywoman Robin Titus (R-Wellington) against Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R-Minden) in a race without any Democratic contenders.
Senate District 16, covering Carson City and portions of rural Northern Nevada, is another example of ideological divides coming to the forefront as two well-established Republican party-line candidates — appointed incumbent Sen. Don Tatro and Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner (R-Reno) — face more radical ones.
Only one state Senate race failed to draw more than one candidate – Senate District 14, a rural district bordering Idaho, Oregon and California, represented by Republican state Sen. Ira Hansen.
Because of their placements fairly far down the ballot, legislative races are among the most likely to be affected by a possible red wave in the wake of rising inflation, high gas prices and President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings. In Republican and Democratic-majority districts, the primaries will determine the candidate most likely to win in the November general election and indicate whether Republicans are competitive in swing districts.
Here’s a look at which races will likely be decided in the primary election, and an early preview of the major general election races that will determine control of the state Senate in 2023.
Senate primaries to watch
Senate District 8
Covering portions of Southwest Las Vegas, this district leans in favor of Democrats, with 33 percent of active voters registered as Democrats and 29 percent registered as Republicans. Through the redistricting process, the district received a bump in the number of registered Democrats over Republicans and voters who supported Biden in the 2020 election, creating more of a buffer in what historically was a competitive, swingy district.
But with almost 29 percent of voters identifying as nonpartisan, the district could end up as a potential wild card.
Incumbent state Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) is running unopposed in the primary, raising more than $81,000 and ending the first quarter with a cash-on-hand balance of $186,000.
Dondero Loop first assumed the seat in 2018 — defeating Republican Valerie Weber by a narrow margin — and served in the Assembly from 2008 to 2014, losing a state Senate bid in 2014.
Eight Republicans are vying for the chance to unseat Dondero Loop. Aside from the three who do not yet have campaign websites, candidates include:
- Real estate agent Jennifer Fawzy, who ran for Assembly District 7 in 2016 only to lose to incumbent Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas) in the general election. As of the first campaign filing period, Fawzy reported raising $16,000 and having an ending cash balance of $6,500. Major donors to Fawzy include state Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Las Vegas), state Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) and the Senate Republican Leadership Caucus.
- Financial services businessman Joshua Dowden, who mounted an unsuccessful state Senate bid against Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) in 2020. Dowden reported raising nearly $9,700. His total cash-on-hand balance is about $8,500.
- Mourey Insurance Agency President Raja Mourey, who reported raising more than $40,000 as of the first filing period, $12,500 of which was supported by a personal loan. Mourey reported having a cash-on-hand balance of about $20,300.
- Joey Paulos, a former casino executive and the founder and owner of Paulos Enterprises, is also running. As of April, Paulos reported raising $9,950 and having a cash-on-hand balance of more than $104,000.
Fawzy holds the state Senate Republican caucus endorsement and is viewed as a frontrunner in the Republican primary, though Paulos has raised the most campaign funds.
Senate District 9
Spreading over portions of Spring Valley and southwest Las Vegas, this district is likely to be a competitive general election race as Republicans hope to unseat incumbent Clark County Deputy District Attorney Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas). Scheible first assumed the seat in 2018, defeating Republican Tiffany Jones by a comfortable margin.
A little more than 35 percent of active voters in the district are registered as Democrats. Nonpartisans comprise 31 percent of voters, and Republicans have almost 25 percent of active registered voters. The district received a notable increase in Democratic voters through the redistricting process but could be vulnerable depending on national trends and how effective Republicans are at targeting Scheible’s seat.
Scheible reported raising $51,700 during the first quarter. She heads into the primary with a cash-on-hand balance of more than $150,500.
Republicans Tina Brown and Tina Peetris are the only two candidates in the District 9 Republican primary. Brown is endorsed by the Senate Republican caucus, and her campaign website notes that she is pro-business, pro-police and pro-school choice.
Brown reported raising around $60,200 as of the first campaign filing period, ending the period with $44,550 in cash on hand. She contributed $15,000 to her own campaign and received donations totaling to $8,500 from state Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Henderson), state Sen. Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka) and the Senate Republican Caucus.
Peetris reported raising $100,000, all of which was a loan to herself, and spent nothing during the first filing period.
Senate District 12
Spanning portions of southeast Las Vegas, 34 percent of active voters in this district are registered as Democrats, nearly 30 percent are nonpartisan, and almost 28 percent are Republican. Termed-out state Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) represents the district but is running for mayor of Boulder City.
During the redistricting process, lawmakers created a new Senate District 12 which gained a Democratic voter registration advantage and effectively swapped places with former Senate District 20 (which covered rural parts of Clark County including Boulder City). The district now leans in favor of Democrats.
Julie Pazina is one of two Democrats running to represent the district and is endorsed by both the Senate Democratic Caucus and the Clark County Education Association. A hospitality and tradeshow professional, Pazina is focusing her campaign on diversifying the economy, pushing for more affordable health care and getting Nevada schools adequate funding. In 2018, Pazina ran for state Senate, narrowly losing to Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) by only 24 votes.
But Pazina faces a notable challenger in the Democratic primary in Lisa Guzman, a Clark County School District trustee whose campaign website says she will focus on serving as a strong voice for public education, pushing affordable housing initiatives and addressing climate change.
Guzman made the announcement she would be running for the seat after a seemingly coordinated campaign urging her to make the jump from local to state politics. Strong Public Schools Nevada — a political action committee affiliated with the Nevada State Education Association teachers union — put out a statement and video in late January urging Guzman to join the race. NSEA employs Guzman as an assistant executive director.
In the first quarter, Pazina reported raising more than $56,500. She heads into the primary with a more than $105,000 war chest. Guzman has raised $2,300 so far and has a cash-on-hand balance of close to $800.
Republicans April Arndt and Cherlyn Arrington are facing off in the Republican primary. The daughter of a police officer, Arndt worked in law enforcement for nearly 20 years. Though Arndt does not yet have a campaign website, the state Senate Republican caucus has endorsed her in the race. Her primary contender, Cherlyn Arrington, a former paralegal who is now a life coach and counselor, unsuccessfully ran for Assembly District 21 in 2020 and lost a bid for the district seat to former Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo in 2018.
Arndt reported raising $14,500, loaning herself $6,000 but received donations totaling $8,500 from state Sen. Heidi Gansert (R-Reno), State Senate Carrie Buck (R-Henderson) and the Senate Republican Caucus. So far, Arndt has reported no spending and has a cash-on-hand balance of $14,500.
Arrington reported $12,800 in contributions, with a $12,000 loan to herself. She has spent less than a thousand dollars and has a cash balance of $12,150.
Senate District 13
Three Democratic candidates are battling to represent the safely Democratic Senate District 13. Encompassing portions of northeast Reno and Sparks and the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, the district was represented by former state Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) until she resigned in November, citing a decision to move outside the boundaries of her Senate district.
Daly received the endorsement of the Senate Democratic Caucus and is a longtime labor union organizer. A hiring professional at Meso Solutions, Stephens was endorsed by the Nevada State Education Association and previously served as the regional representative for the office of Senator Jacky Rosen and was the Northern Nevada Regional Political Director for the Warren for President campaign.
Daly leads in fundraising with $55,000 raised during the first quarter of the year. Stephens raised $21,600, and Miranda raised $760. Heading into the primary, Daly has a war chest of $119,000, while Stephens has reported a cash-on-hand balance of $9,600. Miranda reported a cash balance of $255.
Whichever of the three Democratic candidates advances will face the only Republican candidate: retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Buehler, who ran for Washoe County treasurer as a Democrat in 2018 but ultimately lost in the general election.
Beuhler received the endorsement of the Senate Republican Caucus, raised more than $13,200 as of the first filing period and has more than $18,500 in cash on hand heading into the primary. State Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) and the Senate Republican Caucus each contributed $5,000 to Buehler’s campaign.
Senate District 16
Following the appointment of Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) to the Nevada Gaming Commission in October, Washoe County commissioners and Carson City supervisors tapped mortgage broker Don Tatro to fill Kieckhefer's District 16 Senate seat. The district covers portions of Carson City, Storey County and Washoe County, including Incline Village.
With only one Democratic candidate in what is considered a safe Republican district, the GOP primary is expected to determine not only the district’s future representative but could also herald a shift in the party toward more extreme or moderate candidates.
Though Tatro said he did not have any intention to run for re-election during the appointment process, he said he decided to run after receiving encouragement to do so from grassroots supporters, Senate colleagues and community leaders. He has received the endorsement of the Senate Republican Caucus and as the appointed incumbent, his main challenger is Republican Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner. She paid nearly $5,000 for television advertisements running from mid-April to June — a rare move in state legislative races that indicates the competitiveness of the four-way primary.
Sparks business owner Tim Duvall and right-wing conservative radio host Monica "Jaye" Stabbert are also running for the seat. Stabbert's platform features more right-leaning messaging than Tatro or Krasner's, including support for “Freedom from Forced Vaccination,” referring to undocumented immigrants as “illegals” on her website and support for the “GOD given right to protect yourself,” referring to constitutional carry (or the ability to carry a concealed weapon without a permit).
Tatro has reported raising more than $167,000 backed by the Senate Republican Caucus and other state senators, including Settelmeyer and state Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas). He reported spending $10,601 in the primary so far, almost $20,000 less than Krasner, who has raised more than $34,000 in her bid for the seat. Tatro’s cash on hand is $137,000 to Krasner’s $109,000.
Duvall reported raising $56,000, all from himself. He has spent $23,800 so far and has a cash-on-hand balance of $18,500. Stabbert reported $41,500 in contributions, with $30,000 coming from a loan. Heading into the primary, she has spent about $52,000 and has $11,000 in cash on hand.
Whichever candidate advances to the primary will likely face Democrat Aaron Sims, who reported raising $4,200 and having about $1,300 in cash on hand. He filed to run in Nevada's 2nd Congressional District in 2022 but withdrew before the Democratic primary.
Senate District 17
With incumbent Republican Settelmeyer termed out of office, Assembly members Robin Titus (R-Wellington) and Jim Wheeler (R-Minden) are squaring off in the Republican primary to represent Senate District 17. The rural district includes Churchill, Lyon, Douglas, Mineral, Esmeralda and Nye counties.
With no other party candidate running for the state Senate seat and more than 48 percent of active voters registered as Republicans, the rural district is considered a safe Republican seat that will be determined in the primary.
Wheeler first assumed office in 2012. Before retirement, he served in the U.S. Air Force from 1975 to 1977 and was the chief executive officer of Powerdyne Automotive Products for 15 years.
Titus is a physician in Lyon County and the president of the Smith Valley Historical Society. Previously, she served as chief of staff at the Lyon County Hospital and on the State Board of Medical Examiners. She has also served as President Trump’s Nevada campaign co-chair.
Though Titus took over from Wheeler as leader of the Assembly Republican Caucus after the 2019 session and Wheeler announced the formation of an “Assembly Freedom Caucus” composed of seven fellow Assembly Republicans before the 2021 session, the two lawmakers have historically avoided public spats.
The Senate Republican Caucus endorsed Titus, signifying a rift between Wheeler and the party. Wheeler also received an endorsement from Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).
As of April’s campaign filing deadline, Titus has reported raising a little more than four times Wheeler’s $12,000 reported contributions and spending nearly $37,900 to Wheeler’s $6,400. Heading into the primary, Titus has nearly $96,400 in the bank, while Wheeler has more than $60,600.
Senate District 20
Covering a sizable portion of Henderson and unincorporated Clark County, Senate District 20 is up for grabs in the 2022 election cycle following state Sen. Keith Pickard’s (R-Henderson) decision not to run for re-election.
During the redistricting process, the district effectively swapped places with former Senate District 12, maintaining a heavy Republican voter registration advantage.
With nearly 41 percent of active voters registered as Republicans compared to only 25 percent registered as Democrats, the seat is considered to be safe in the hands of the Republican Party.
Though Assemblyman Glen Leavitt (R-Boulder City) filed early to run for the office, he withdrew from the race in March citing personal reasons, leaving pharmacist and former California state Sen. Jeff Stone as the lone Republican candidate running for the seat. After five years of service, Stone resigned from the California Senate in 2019 when he accepted a nomination from former President Donald Trump to become the Western Regional Director of the U.S. Department of Labor.
Stone reported raising $115,470 as of the first candidate filing period, $100,000 of which is a loan. Heading into the primary, he has a $112,300 cash-on-hand balance.
Retired military intelligence officer and former middle school teacher Brent Foutz is the only Democrat listed in the race. Foutz ran for election to the Assembly in 2020 but ultimately lost to Leavitt in the general election, carrying only 33.7 percent of the vote to Leavitt’s 63.4 percent.
Libertarian Brandon Mills and nonpartisan Daniel Patterson also filed to run.
Mills reported raising $75 and having a cash-on-hand balance of $23. Patterson has reported raising $7,270 and having that same amount in the bank. All of Patterson’s funding comes from people who share his last name. Foutz did not file a campaign report.
Updated on May 5, 2022, at 8:37 a.m. to include a link to Senate District 9 candidate Tina Peetris' campaign website.
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