By Timothy Pratt
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Nevada Republican Mark Amodei easily won a special election on Tuesday to fill a vacant House of Representatives seat in a largely rural district that has never sent a Democrat to Congress.
With 95 percent of precincts counted, Amodei had collected over 57 percent of votes compared to 36 percent for Democratic state Treasurer Kate Marshall, according to the Nevada Secretary of State's office. Other candidates garnered the remaining votes.
"THANK YOU NEVADA!" Amodei posted on his twitter account as the votes rolled in and showed him with a near 20 point lead.
Amodei will replace Republican Dean Heller, who was named to the Senate to take over for John Ensign. Ensign resigned his seat earlier this year after admitting to an extramarital affair with a campaign staffer.
"With their support of Mark Amodei, the people of Nevada's 2nd Congressional District have chosen the principles of common sense, Nevada values, and prosperity," Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian said in a statement.
She called the victory a resounding rejection of the policies of President Barack Obama and the country's Democratic leadership and of what she described as a "bigger, more expansive and overreaching government".
A Republican win in such a traditionally conservative area that narrowly favored John McCain in 2008 had not been expected to send any strong signal for national politics or for how Nevada will vote in 2012.
But low turnout of just under 32 percent did appear to reflect voter apathy in a longtime swing state with severe economic woes, political analyst Andres Ramirez said.
Amodei's campaign had emphasized his opposition to what his spokesman described as the "failed economic policies" of Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who won a hard-fought reelection battle last year.
Marshall conceded the election to Amodei in a phone call, her campaign spokesman James Hallinan said.
"She did concede," he said. "She's thanking supporters."
Marshall, who distanced herself from some of Obama's policies including health care, had stressed her support for entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare while promoting her jobs credentials.
Before the recession, a population boom was accompanied by a surge in Democratic voters in Nevada, long a swing state in national polls with a libertarian bent. Nevada, at the epicenter of the country's housing crisis, reported the highest jobless rate in the country in July at 12.9 percent.
Some of the counties in the second district, which encompasses most of Nevada outside the more urban and Democratic-leaning Las Vegas area, were hard hit by the recession.
Also on Tuesday, Nevada's conservative Republican governor Brian Sandoval endorsed Rick Perry for the GOP Presidential nomination, giving the Texas governor a boost in the state.
"Our nation needs a leader in the White House who understands the role of government and our economy. Governor Rick Perry has the strongest record of job creation, fiscal discipline, and executive branch leadership among the presidential candidates," Sandoval said in a statement posted on Facebook.
His move came a day after another conservative, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, also endorsed Perry's campaign.
Perry's Republican rival Mitt Romney, who released his economic plan in Nevada last week, argues he can gain wider support among American voters than Perry. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has endorsed Romney.
(Additional reporting and writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Peter Bohan)