Election 2024

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The four most interesting Democratic state Senate primaries in Nevada

The races include a Culinary-backed nurse and state regent challenging longtime legislators, and a Bachelorette contestant taking on a former A’s lobbyist.
Tabitha Mueller
Tabitha Mueller
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
Election 2024GovernmentLegislature

A Culinary-backed candidate taking on a longtime legislator supported by other unions.

A higher education regent squaring off against a veteran North Las Vegas legislator under FBI investigation.

A first-term assemblywoman facing a Reno councilwoman.

And a former Bachelorette contestant confronting an establishment-backed Democrat who lobbied for the Oakland Athletics last year.

These are four Senate Democratic primaries that The Nevada Independent is monitoring closely because of their potential to divide Democratic constituencies.

In two of these races, the winner of the June 11 primary will most likely prevail in the general election because the districts are solidly Democratic. In the two other races, Democrats see a possible pickup opportunity in the general election as they seek the one additional Senate seat needed for a supermajority, or two-thirds of seats in both chambers, allowing them to override any potential vetoes issued by Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo.

Here’s a closer look at the dynamics in the four races.

Click on the headings below to jump to a specific race.

Senate District 3 - Rochelle Nguyen vs. Geoconda Hughes

Senate District 4 - Dina Neal vs. Laura Perkins

Senate District 5 - Christian Bishop vs. Jennifer Atlas

Senate District 15 - Angie Taylor vs. Naomi Duerr


Democratic candidate for state Senate District 3 Geo Hughes, left, takes a photo with potential voter MaryAnita Glover, center, and Maria Avilez at the Siegel Suites MLK Apartments in Las Vegas on May 4, 2024. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Senate District 3

The Democratic primary for Senate District 3 in Las Vegas is a battle of the unions.

Culinary Workers Union Local 226 is running Geoconda Hughes, a nurse practitioner for the Dignity Health Medical Group and daughter of the union’s former secretary-treasurer, to challenge incumbent Sen. Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas).

But other Nevada unions are split. 

Nguyen has racked up endorsements from the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) and the Las Vegas branches of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Laborers Union (which represents construction workers) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Hughes, meanwhile, has the backing of the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA) and the Southern Nevada branches of Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). 

Nguyen, an attorney and former assemblywoman, is running her first race as a senator after she was appointed to the open Senate District 3 seat in 2022. She joined the Assembly in 2019 and quickly rose up the ranks.

John Vellardita, the executive director of CCEA, said Culinary’s decision to enter a candidate is because he believes it is “a political force that’s in decline.”

“The Culinary didn't get what it wanted in this last legislative session, so they're going after the majority leader's leadership team,” he said.

Ted Pappageorge, Culinary’s secretary-treasurer, said in an interview that “we don’t worry about” outside perception of political influence and that their support for Hughes is based on not wanting more “attorneys and developers” in the Legislature.

“Somebody [who] has to punch a time clock is going to do a much better job for Nevadans,” Pappageorge said.

So far, both campaigns are focused on Culinary.

Hughes’ challenge to Nguyen centers around her support of SB441, a bill that received bipartisan support (and Culinary’s opposition) to remove the pandemic-imposed requirement to clean all hotel rooms daily.

In an interview, Hughes said the legislation (which was eventually rendered moot in Las Vegas hotels with union contracts because new contracts reinstated the requirement) hurt “some of the hardest working people of our state.”

“She showed very clearly who she sided with — that was big industry,” Hughes said.

The gaming industry is expected to contribute heavily to Nguyen. Her supporters also comprise of an alliance of groups that often don’t agree, including the gaming industry and the trial lawyers, both of which contributed to Nguyen during the first quarter.

Nguyen is taking aim at the Culinary — albeit not directly.

Last week, she released her first campaign ad, which centers around her support to lower prescription drug prices, an apparent reference to AB250, a bill passed along party lines but vetoed by Lombardo. The legislation would have seen Nevada piggyback off the federal Inflation Reduction Act — which allowed Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs beginning in 2026 — by applying those price caps statewide, not just to those on Medicare. 

In a bill hearing, officials with Culinary, which has its own pharmacy and health plan for members, testified that they opposed the legislation. Union representatives wanted the issue to instead be introduced in the 2025 session (closer to when the federal drug pricing negotiations begin) and for a more collaborative bill process. 

“Being supportive of bills, like AB250, I think is super important,” Nguyen said. “I think that's what distinguishes me from my opponent.”

A Culinary spokesperson told The Indy last week that the union did not actually oppose the legislation but had to register as an opponent to suggest fixes to the legislation.

The winner of the June primary is all but guaranteed to win in November because the district — which stretches from central to northwestern Las Vegas — is solidly Democratic.

Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas) before the start of a floor session inside the Legislature on March 20, 2023, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Senate District 4

As Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas) seeks to hold onto her Senate seat, she’s facing a couple of challenges.

First, she’s under FBI investigation based on allegations that she asked for small business grant money to be steered to a business owned by her friend.

Second, she’s up against a higher education regent who’s being backed by top North Las Vegas officials with whom she has feuded.

Neal was an assemblywoman from 2010 to 2020 and has since represented Senate District 4, the same seat that her father, the late Sen. Joe Neal, held for nearly 30 years. She declined an interview but responded to The Indy’s questions in writing (she did not answer a question about voter perception of the FBI investigation).

Asked about the differences between her and her opponent, Neal said “[v]oters are smart and they don’t need politicians telling them what to think.”

“I am going to win this race the same way I’ve won every race I have ever run, by meeting voters where they are at,” the response said.

Neal said she wants to do more to hold the Clark County School District accountable, increase health care accessibility and affordability and make sure that the North Las Vegas community is not ignored.

In the 2023 legislative session, Neal sponsored SB450, a bill to convert the dilapidated Windsor Park neighborhood in North Las Vegas — which was built over geographic faults and was redlined for decades — into a park and relocate the 93 remaining residents. The legislation tapped into $25 million of coronavirus relief funds and allocated $12 million to the state’s housing division to develop the land and relocate residents.

Nevada System of Higher Education Regent Laura Perkins during an NSHE meeting in Las Vegas on Jan. 18, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Nevada System of Higher Education Regent Laura Perkins has been in office since 2018 following a nine-year stint as a North Las Vegas planning commissioner.

But in her campaign, Perkins is not focused on Neal, but on her time as a regent, saying it has given her a “wider point of view” of how state budgets and policy work.

Asked about how she would pitch herself to undecided voters, Perkins said she would emphasize her approachability and “open door policy.”

Perkins will have to overcome a lackluster fundraising haul from the start of this year. She raised just $2,000 in the first quarter — she only entered the race at the end of the quarter and was previously running for re-election as a regent — and trails Neal by more than $20,000 in cash on hand.

However, she has the support of North Las Vegas Mayor Pamela Goynes-Brown. A spokesperson said Goynes-Brown was unavailable for an interview last week.

The endorsements followed tension between city officials and Neal last year. She accused officials of committing perjury during a committee hearing on since-abandoned plans to buy land that housed the since-demolished Texas Station casino. Neal cited mixed messaging surrounding whether the city intended to purchase the property. She also sparred with city officials over a bill regarding a city charter committee.

Isaac Barron, a North Las Vegas councilman who endorsed Perkins, said he has known her for more than a decade and that Neal has done things that are “n​​ot in line with the direction that that our city is going,” but he did not name specifics.

“It’s time for someone new to represent us,” Barron said.


Senate District 5

In Senate District 5, which covers parts of Henderson and Paradise, two Democrats are running to challenge Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Henderson). Establishment-backed former lobbyist Jennifer Atlas has raised almost double that of challenger Christian Bishop in the first quarter. But Bishop is outspending Atlas.

The swing district has a fairly even split of registered Democratic (about 29 percent) and Republican voters (almost 30 percent), with the highest percentage of voters registered as nonpartisans (nearly 34 percent). It’s one of the few districts Democrats hope to flip blue this election cycle.

Atlas received endorsements from the Senate Democratic Caucus, progressive groups such as Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada and several unions, including the State Federation of labor representing more than 150,000 members, the Nevada AFL-CIO and the Carpenters Local 1977. 

Bishop received an endorsement from the Nevada State Education Association, a statewide teacher’s union which has heavily criticized the Legislature’s approval of a $380 million public financing deal to bring the Oakland Athletics to Las Vegas. Representatives from the union did not answer a query about why it endorsed Bishop instead of Atlas, who was notably one of 19 lobbyists representing the team during the 2023 legislative session.

Atlas came to Southern Nevada almost 18 years ago as a competitive ballroom dancer and then worked in hospitality before eventually training as a paralegal and transitioning into lobbying. She no longer works as a lobbyist and is a paralegal for the Coburn and Martin law firm. 

Atlas said she sees her lobbying experience as a benefit. 

“It means I can go to work on day one. I understand the process,” she said.

A single mom, Atlas said she is running for the seat because of her 9-year-old son and a desire to improve schools, such as reducing the number of long-term substitute teachers and large class sizes. 

“I look into his eyes, and I want Nevada to make sense for him and his friends. When they go out into the world, I want them to have every chance at success,” she said.

Atlas wants to propose legislation that would automatically enroll babies who qualify for Medicaid in the government-funded health insurance program. 

She said her son spent 30 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit after his birth, and she had to navigate a half-million-dollar medical bill because of confusion about whether he qualified.

Bishop, who works in the tech space and was a former contestant on The Bachelorette and  Bachelor in Paradise, said he’s running because Buck has been unable to pass any bills she sponsored during the 2021 and 2023 legislative sessions when Democrats controlled both chambers (as the majority party, Democrats can unilaterally kill bills).

“You’ve got to be able to work across the aisle and get things done for Nevadans,” Bishop said. 

He added that he grew up with a single mom, and the educational opportunities he received helped him achieve success — something he wants to help other families access. 

If elected, he said he’d like to focus on accountability in education and bring in industries that can offer internships and trade skills training for students.

Bishop called the Senate Democratic Caucus’ endorsement process “a real interesting one.” As for the distinguishing factors between him and Atlas, Bishop demurred.

“If groups are going to support a candidate, go for it, that's their right to do,” Bishop said. “I'm just really sensitive to always make sure it doesn't undermine our democracy, and that everybody has a fair chance to run, and that there's no gatekeeping.” 

Atlas said she wouldn’t have run if the Senate Democratic Caucus thought there was a better candidate, and has been relentlessly reaching out to voters, highlighting her pro-abortion rights stance.

Bishop said he is taking a “day by day” approach to winning the primary, which began with an early fundraising start. 

Bishop has a slightly higher cash-on-hand advantage over Atlas heading into the second quarter, but a third of it consists of a $25,000 contribution he gave himself in December.

Assemblywoman Angie Taylor (D-Reno) inside the Assembly Chamber on Feb. 20 in Carson City during the 82nd legislative session. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Senate District 15

In September, within days of one another, Reno City Councilwoman Naomi Duerr and Assemblywoman Angie Taylor (D-Reno) announced plans to run for Senate District 15, setting up a Democratic primary challenge in a key legislative seat.

The two Democrats, both with deep experience in local government, are competing to run in the general election for the seat occupied by Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno), who announced in August that she would not run for re-election. Republican Senate Caucus-endorsed Mike Ginsburg, a longtime member of the Builders Association of Northern Nevada, is considered the front-runner in a three-way GOP primary. Not much information is available on the third Democratic candidate in the race, Johnny Kerns, who is primarily supported by a self-donation of $1,000.

The Reno-area district was a top target of Democrats during the 2021 redistricting process — the new maps turned a district that was nearly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans to one with a comfortable Democratic advantage. The district now has more than 33 percent of voters registered as Democrats, about 28 percent registered as Republicans and nearly 31 percent registered as nonpartisan.

Taylor, who was elected as an assemblywoman in 2022 and previously served eight years on the Washoe County School Board, is the CEO of Guardian Quest, which provides organizations with equity, diversity and unconscious bias training.

“I don't have anybody [I won’t meet with], unless you give me a reason. I want to hear what you have to say,” Taylor said. “The same principles I teach are the same principles I use down in the Legislature.”

She said she wants to move from the Assembly to the Senate because the longer Senate terms offer a greater ability to serve constituents and develop more substantive legislation.

Reno city council member Naomi Duerr at an election watch party following Nevada's primary election on June 12, 2018 at the Skyline Kitchen and Vine in Reno. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Duerr is halfway through her third and final term on the city council. She owns a small business working with the mining industry. Duerr said she is running because she wants to focus on addressing statewide problems she hasn’t been able to tackle at the local level.

Duerr highlighted her experience as a geologist and time on the city council, saying the combination makes her effective in understanding scientific and human issues and addressing public policy problems.

If elected, Duerr wants to focus on affordable housing, the environment, water management and addressing a shortage of veterinarians. As someone who experienced fertility issues, she said that protecting access to reproductive services is of the utmost importance.

Though Duerr was not endorsed by the caucus, she said she’s made every effort to support constituents in the past.

“Those are the people I care about the most. Endorsements are nice, money is nice, absolutely,” Duerr said. “But at the end of the day, you have to have a connection and understanding with the people that you're representing and that is where I think I shine.”

Taylor said what sets her apart is her existing relationships with people working in the capitol, a doctorate in education and the backing of the Senate Democratic Caucus. She also cited success in passing legislation with bipartisan support. 

During the 2023 legislative session, she worked with Lombardo on two complementary bills that tightened school discipline laws; both advanced as part of a deal to pass two major budget bills.

She said she wants to ensure that teachers are supported and that the historic funding allocated during the 2023 legislative session equates to greater learning for students — efforts she said her education background makes her “uniquely qualified” to help address. 

Taylor said she’s also prioritizing health care affordability and access. She had breast cancer at the same time as a friend who had less insurance coverage than she did, and Taylor noticed disparities in her friend’s care.

Though Taylor has, so far, outraised Duerr, both candidates said they’re not underestimating the other.

“I would not have the people count me out,” Duerr said. “I am running a race to win it because I think it matters to our community that I'm there in the Legislature advocating for them.”

Taylor said that there are two ways to run for office: unopposed or scared. 

“My whole approach has been get out there and work hard. Talk to people, let them know why I'm running and why I think I'm the best candidate for this job,” she said.

Updated on 5/5/24 at 10:36 a.m. to clarify which hotels have daily room cleaning requirements.


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