Nevada’s 4th District could host a rematch between two former one-term members of Congress. And both know what it’s like to lose.
Democrat Steven Horsford and Republican Cresent Hardy are considered the front-runners in their respective primary races Tuesday. Should they win, the general election would be a rematch of 2014, when Hardy ousted Horsford in a surprise only to lose the seat two years later.
Having two former members running could set up an unusual contest in which both candidates have name ID, voting records for their opposition to pick apart, and new attacks from their time after the House. But first, they have to make it past their primaries.
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Democrats are confident of holding on to the 4th District seat that Hillary Clinton carried by 5 points in 2016. Democrat Ruben Kihuen unseated Hardy by 4 points that year, but the freshman lawmaker is retiring following allegations of sexual harassment.
But the district is also one of the few places Republicans will be on offense. The National Republican Congressional Committee listed it as an early target.
Hardy’s 2014 victory was a surprise. Democrats explained his win by pointing to high Republican energy and turnout in a year when the GOP won their largest majority in the House since the 1940s.
The party took that 2014 race for granted until it was too late, one Democratic operative said. But they’re paying attention now.
Horsford told The Nevada Independent when he decided to run that he would do a few things differently this time around. He said he planned to run “a very grass-roots, community-oriented campaign,” focusing on direct contact with voters.
Party operatives said a Horsford-Hardy rematch could lead to some familiar-sounding attacks resurfacing. (Neither campaign responded to requests for comment.)
“All of the things that we hit him for in 2016, cutting Social Security, cutting Medicare, the Paul Ryan budget, Yucca Mountain … he’s still there,” one Democratic strategist said of Hardy. The former congressman said in 2015 that he was open to a discussion about storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada as long as “safety standards are overwhelmingly met.”
Republicans previously painted Horsford as a corrupt politician, and those attacks could be used again.
Both candidates also have new baggage since the 2014 campaign.
After losing re-election, Horsford stayed near the nation’s capital. He said remaining in Virginia was the best decision for his family. But he’s also said Nevada remains his home, noting he was born and raised there. Horsford’s opponents in the Democratic primary have criticized him for the move, and the criticism will likely get louder should he make it to the general election.
Hardy could face questions about a campaign consultant who was fired following allegations of domestic abuse and sexual assault.
His fundraising also has raised some concerns among Republicans, according to a party strategist, especially since Nevada is expected to host expensive gubernatorial and Senate contests this cycle.
Hardy has raised $318,000 in his race so far, compared to $360,000 for Horsford, according to Federal Election Commission documents. With the latter having to spend against more credible candidates in his primary, Hardy would start any matchup with Horsford with a financial advantage.
Hardy ended the pre-primary period on May 23 with $277,000 in the bank, while Horsford had $66,000 on hand.
While five other Republicans are running in the 4th District, Hardy is largely expected to win the GOP primary.
Six Democrats, including Horsford, filed for the open seat, sparking a primary battle, but the former congressman has outspent his opponents.
Horsford launched a digital ad campaign that highlighted his own heart surgery when he was in Congress, noting he would have been lost without health insurance.
He’s also been bolstered by the only outside spending in the race, according to ProPublica. UNITE HERE has aired television ads supporting Horsford, who was endorsed by the Culinary Union, an affiliate of UNITE HERE and an influential political force in Nevada that turns out its members.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has effectively backed Horsford, adding him to its Red to Blue program for strong contenders.
But some of his Democratic opponents say Horsford could be a weakened general election candidate because of his time away from the district.
State Sen. Pat Spearman was concerned that he could turn off people not affiliated with any party, who make up 21 percent of district voters.
“They’re not going to take kindly to this matchup when … the Republican nominee is someone who’s lived here … and can prove that he has been here,” she said.
Democrats do have a voter registration advantage in the district — 41 percent to 32 percent over the Republicans — and they’re hoping increased energy, buoyed by hotly contested races at the top of the ticket, will boost party turnout.
Spearman, a former Army officer, said her past as a veteran and her work as a state legislator would make her a strong contender in the general election. She has been endorsed by Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton and VoteVets.
She jumped into the race after Kihuen decided to retire. But businesswoman Amy Vilela, who supports “Medicare for All” legislation, was already challenging the incumbent. Vilela is still in the race, along with high school principal John Anzalone; Allison Stephens, a member of the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents; and Sid Zeller, a retired Marine.
Although Horsford is considered the front-runner, it’s unclear how his past in Congress will play out in the primary.
Anazalone said some consider the former member a “safe play” since his prior service would give him experience even as a freshman lawmaker. But Anazalone also said other voters want a new type of candidate with “fresh ideas.”
“That conversation seems to be split as well and that’s what made this race pretty interesting,” he said.