Cathleen Allison, Associated Press
LAS VEGAS — Republican former state senator Mark Amodei won Nevada's heavily GOP 2nd Congressional District in a special election Tuesday night, easily trouncing Democrat Kate Marshall in this economically-ravaged state where President Barack Obama's popularity has sagged.
Amodei entered Election Day as the candidate to take down, with early voting and registration numbers alike heavily favoring the GOP. History was also on his side. The district made up of rural, conservative voters has never elected a Democrat.
"I'm looking forward to going back and getting to work right away ... and getting that message delivered and turning that tide," Amodei said during a victory speech before more than 250 supporters at a Reno casino.
The candidates were competing to replace Republican Dean Heller, who was promoted from the House to the Senate in May after former Republican Sen. John Ensign resigned over a sex scandal with a former staffer.
Republicans blamed Obama for Marshall's loss, a claim that could come up frequently in advance of next year's presidential election despite the district's Republican leanings.
"Even in the home state of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, voters have turned on the president and his congressional allies," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. "Not only are the president's policies not working, but his non-stop campaigning is no longer winning over voters."
GOP Chairwoman Amy Tarkankain announced at Amodei's victory party that his win "is the first step telling President Obama he's done."
Nevada's worst-in-the-nation economy likely did little to help Marshall's campaign. Angry voters steamed with politics in general might have also depressed turnout and further hurt her cause.
The candidates both sought to appeal to centrist voters, but their differences were stark. Amodei, a former state GOP chairman, pledged to support a balanced budget amendment in Congress and signed an anti-tax pledge, while Marshall, the state treasurer, was critical of Obama but still supportive of his federal health care overhaul.
Those ties to Washington Democrats, however limited or underplayed by her side, made Marshall a difficult sell in rural Nevada. The sprawling congressional district covers all of northern Nevada and a slice of Clark County near Las Vegas.
Voters Scott and Jean Foster described themselves as conservative Republicans, and blamed Obama and Democratic policies for failing to get the country's economy on track. Both are unemployed. Nevada has the highest jobless rate in the nation.
"Hopefully next year we can turn it around," Scott Foster said after voting at the Fish Springs Volunteer Fire Department in rural Douglas County Tuesday afternoon. A mathematician with degrees from MIT and Stanford, he said he's been unemployed for two years.
Johnny Gummert, a security investigator in Sparks, said he voted for Amodei largely because of his opposition to Obama administration policies.
"I want to get back to the way it used to be, when people would do what they told you they were going to do," Gummert said.
Democratic voters were also confident that Obama's sliding popularity had influenced the contest.
Wes Hoskins, 31, who works in Reno for the conservation group Friends of the Wilderness, said he was concerned that Obama's unpopularity would limit turnout.
Hoskins, who voted for Marshall, said he's a "lukewarm Obama supporter" but that he doesn't blame the administration for the lingering sour economy.
"A lot of what is going on, no administration could help," Hoskins said.
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