- Associated Press - Saturday, May 31, 2014

LAS VEGAS (AP) - The most geographically diverse congressional district in Nevada is the site of its liveliest primary, pitting a former tea party strategist against a conservative state assemblyman in a bid to challenge a better-funded Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford.

Niger Innis and Assemblyman Cresent Hardy are seeking the Republican nomination for the 4th Congressional District, which stretches from urban North Las Vegas to the rural northern towns of Yerington and Ely.

Other primary races in the state on June 10 are less competitive. Incumbents Dina Titus of the 1st District and Mark Amodei of the 2nd District expect to sail to re-election in November, helped by registration advantages. The primary will be a small hurdle compared with the general election in the swing 3rd District, which Democrats hope to wrest from three-term Rep. Joe Heck.

The candidates’ personal stories add intrigue to the Republican primary in the 4th District, where contenders must appeal to both city dwellers and country folk. Innis, who is black and serves as national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, is angling to take the seat from the state’s first African-American congressman. Hardy is a fifth-generation resident of Mesquite and two-term assemblyman.

The two have trumpeted their conservative credentials during four debates, speaking out against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s handling of a tense grazing rights dispute involving rancher Cliven Bundy.

Both said they think government agents acted too harshly when they tried to seize hundreds of cattle from Bundy’s Bunkerville ranch, located in the 4th District. Bureau of Land Management officials, who say the cattle are trespassing on public lands and argue that Bundy owes $1.1 million in grazing fees, halted their roundup April 12 after encountering armed militia members.

Hardy said he has been in talks with Bundy and Nevada officials for years, trying to bring more federal land under state control - a priority for ranchers irked that 85 percent of land in Nevada is controlled by the federal government. Innis dismissed those efforts as all talk and no action.

In their most recent debate, Innis criticized Hardy for votes in the Nevada Legislature to implement the Affordable Care Act, while Innis was criticized for failing to vote for much of his adult life.

The two are close in campaign fundraising. Innis reported raising $195,000, with $66,000 left over as of May 21. Hardy reported raising $190,000, with $55,000 left over as he headed into the primary, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The Republican primary also includes lesser-known candidates Mike Monroe and Carlo Poliak, who frequently appears on the Nevada ballot.

The winner is expected to face Horsford, who had $280,000 cash on hand as of May 21, according to the FEC. Horsford faces two Democratic primary challengers - the little-known Mark Budetich Jr. and Sid Zeller, who sought the same seat two years ago as a Republican.

In the 3rd Congressional District, which includes suburban Henderson and Summerlin, the battle is projected to come after the primary. Democrat Erin Bilbray is expected to beat a little-known primary opponent, Zachary “Mr. Z” Campbell, who ran for a state Assembly seat in 2010 and lost in the primary. Three-term incumbent Rep. Joe Heck, a Republican, faces no primary challenge.

Democrats hope they can leverage their 1 percentage-point registration advantage in the district to unseat Heck. But registered nonpartisan voters, who account for 19 percent of the electorate, figure to decide the race in November.

Heck leads in fundraising, with almost four times as much campaign cash as Bilbray. He had $1.37 million cash on hand as of May 21, while she had $379,000 on hand, according to reports filed with the FEC.

Bilbray, the daughter of well-known four-term Nevada congressman James Bilbray, founded Emerge Nevada, which trains female political candidates. She received an endorsement from the pro-abortion rights group EMILY’s list and has highlighted her support for same-sex marriage, although she says her top priority is the economy.

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