Douglas County Commissioner Danny Tarkanian, a Republican who finally ended his legendary losing streak in 2020, revealed to the Nevada Independent that he’s considering challenging Rep. Mark Amodei in the June primary for Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District. The congressman quickly responded to the news by telling the site, “[I]t's America... if somebody thinks that they've got a better mousetrap, then those are the avenues available to them." The filing deadline is March 18, and whoever wins the GOP nod will be the clear favorite in a northern Nevada seat that, according to Dave’s Redistricting App, would have backed Donald Trump 54-43.
While it remains to be seen what argument Tarkanian would make to persuade primary voters to oust Amodei, the congressman’s experience last cycle could preview what’s to come. In September of 2019, Amodei pissed off conservative nationwide when he became the first House Republican to identify as impeachment-curious, saying of the inquiry into Trump, "Let's put it through the process and see what happens." Amodei added, "I'm a big fan of oversight, so let's let the committees get to work and see where it goes." Where it went was a firestorm of far-right outrage, with angry conservatives convinced that Amodei had actually called for impeaching Trump.
Amodei quickly responded by protesting, "In no way, shape, or form, did I indicate support for impeachment," though even expressing openness to an inquiry was enough to infuriate not only the rank and file but top Republicans as well. The Trump campaign soon rolled out its state co-chairs for 2020, and politicos noticed that Amodei, who was and remains Nevada’s only Republican member of Congress, was snubbed.
The far-right Club for Growth joined in the fracas by releasing a poll showing former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt beating him in a hypothetical primary, but all of this sound and fury ended up signifying nothing for 2020 at least. Amodei joined the rest of the GOP caucus in voting against both the inquiry and Trump’s first impeachment, and neither Laxalt nor anyone else of stature ended up running against him.
Things played out in a familiar manner right after the Jan. 6 attack when Amodei told Nevada Newsmakers, “Do I think he (Trump) has a responsibility for what has occurred? Yes.” The congressman, though, this time used his interview to say upfront that he’d oppose an impeachment inquiry, and he soon joined most of his party colleagues in voting against impeachment. However, as South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace just learned the hard way, Trump is very happy to back primary challenges to members who simply blamed him for the attack on the Capitol.
Tarkanian, for his part, is also a very familiar name in Silver State politics, though not entirely for welcome reasons. Tarkanian himself comes from a prominent family: His late father is the legendary University of Nevada, Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, while his mother, Democrat Lois Tarkanian, was a longtime Las Vegas city councilwoman who now serves on the state Board of Regents. The younger Tarkanian (known as Little Tark to his not-friends), was a resident of Las Vegas’ Clark County when he lost the:
But while Tarkanian’s long string of defeats has made him a punchline to state and national political observers for years, his name recognition, personal wealth, and connections to Nevada’s hardcore conservative base meant that he was never just another perennial candidate either party could dismiss. Notably in 2016, Tarkanian overcame $1.6 million in outside spending directed against him in the primary to defeat state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, the choice of then-Gov. Brian Sandoval and national Republicans, by a surprisingly wide 32-24. That result may have cost Team Red the swingy 3rd District, but only just: Tarkanian lost to his Democratic foe, now-Sen. Jacky Rosen, 47-46 as Donald Trump was carrying the district 48-47.
Conservatives also took Little Tark seriously in 2017 when he launched a primary challenge to Sen. Dean Heller and a pair of polls showed him winning. Trump managed to ward off Little Tark just before the following year’s filing deadline when he convinced him to drop out and run for the 3rd District again with his endorsement. Tarkanian, though, lost to Democrat Susie Lee by wide 52-43 as Rosen was unseating Heller.
Tarkanian decided soon afterwards that he’d had enough of Vegas and he moved to Douglas County, a small rural community located well to the north near the Reno area. But he was hardly done with politics, and Amodei himself suggested in April of 2019, months before his impeachment inquiry flirtations, that he could run against him.
Tarkanian instead devoted his efforts to denying renomination to a far lower profile incumbent, Douglas County Commission Dave Nelson. The challenger joined a pro-development slate of candidates seeking seats on the 5-member body, and this time, fortune was finally on his side: Tarkanian won the nomination 50.1-49.9―a margin of 17 votes―and he had no opposition in the general election. We’ll find out in the next five weeks if, now that he’s finally an elected official, Little Tark decides to test out his newfound luck by going after Amodei.