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Danny Tarkanian, Republican candidate for Nevada Congressional District 3, during an interview on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Danny Tarkanian has an uphill battle to win the race to represent the state’s 3rd Congressional District, but he can win, according to Rep. Steve Stivers, who is chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“I think that Danny Tarkanian, his family name, gets him to 40 percent automatically and then he’s got to figure out how to get that next 10 percent,” Stivers told reporters Thursday. “He’s doing lots of things. He’s reaching out, he’s raising money. I think Danny can win.”

Nevada is one of only four states this election cycle with two seats being vacated by Democrats who are retiring or seeking higher office, making it one of the few places where the GOP could pick up seats. The other states are Minnesota, Michigan and Texas. In Nevada, along with the 3rd Congressional District, the 4th Congressional District is also open.

But Tarkanian, who is the son of the legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, has never won a race for elected office in six tries. Stivers, who is from Ohio, added that in the event that Tarkanian doesn’t win, it will be because the Democrats spent $5 million to defend the seat in the pricey Las Vegas media market. The seat is currently held by Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is running for Senate.

“He’s not going to lay down. He could win. If they spend $4 or $5 million they might be able to beat him,” Stiver said. “But if they have to spend $4 or $5 million to hold a seat they already own, it makes the math hard to get to a majority.”

“That doesn’t help them, it helps me,” noted Stivers, whose role as head of the NRCC is to help elect more Republicans to the House of Representatives.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, a Democrat from New Mexico who is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, took issue with Stiver’s argument, citing Tarkanian’s failed record of running for office and the fundraising prowess of the likely Democratic candidate, Susie Lee.

“Mr. Tarkanian is zero for six, and in fact that data is on the side of Susie Lee,” Lujan said Thursday. “Even though Mr. Tarkanian was running for the U.S. Senate and should have far surpassed Susie Lee in being able to bring in financial support for his candidacy, he was still outraised by Susie Lee.”

Tarkanian began the 2018 cycle as a candidate for Senate, but dropped out of the GOP primary at the behest of President Donald Trump to clear the field for Sen. Dean Heller. The Nevada senator faces a difficult re-election campaign as the only Republican Senate incumbent from a state Trump lost.

After dropping out of the Senate race, Tarkanian filed to run in the 3rd Congressional District. Lee recently reported raising more than $500,000 so far this year and ended March with more than $1 million on hand, while Tarkanian raised $367,000 and has nearly $730,000 on hand.

Her opponents have sought to paint Lee as wealthy and out of touch. Her husband has ties to gaming, and similar attacks were made in the Democratic primary when she ran in the 4th Congressional District in 2016.

DCCC officials point to the fact that Lee comes from humble beginnings and put herself through school. They also note that Trump’s affluent background did not prevent him from winning the 3rd Congressional District over Hillary Clinton.

They also point to the fact that the Cook Political Report rates the race as “Lean Democrat.” The political prognosticator also rates the 4th Congressional races as “Likely Democratic.”

Stivers was also upbeat about Cresent Hardy’s chances to beat Democrat Steven Horsford in the 4th Congressional District, in what amounts to something of a rematch. Horsford held the seat for one term before being defeated by Hardy in 2014. Stivers expects the top-of-the-ticket races for governor and Senate to boost turnout, which the NRCC chairman believes would favor Hardy.

The seat is currently occupied by Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who isn’t running for re-election after being accused of sexual harassment. Kihuen denies the allegations.

Big-ticket races are “going to get people out on both sides, and Republicans are going to fight to hold Dean Heller’s Senate seat, they’re going to fight to hold the governor’s mansion and I think that’s going to make sure that we get Republicans out in the 4th and the 3rd, but especially in the 4th,” he said. “You’re going to seek big turnout and I think that’s going to help Cresent Hardy big time.”

Stivers also said that Hardy’s previous victory augurs well for the Republican. “I feel really confident that Cresent Hardy in the 4th is going to do well,” he said.

Lujan said that higher turnout typically benefits Democratic candidates. “In both Nevada districts, I am confident that Democrats will be able to hold those districts,” he said. “All across the country, the momentum is on our side and our candidates are outperforming Republicans in district after district.”

Horsford reported raising $250,060 last quarter and spending $60,062, leaving him with $189,998 cash on hand. That compares with Hardy, who reported raising $191,550 in the last quarter. After spending $1,605, he has $189,945 and no formidable primary opponents of whom to speak.

Stivers also noted that Hardy could use Trump to help energize rural voters, but he cautioned that would have to be done in a way that would not turn off independents and moderates in the more urban parts of the district. “There is a way to use the president in that race,” he said, adding that each candidate knows the districts best and will make their own call on that.

Disclosure: Susie Lee has donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.
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