Nevada GOP competition crucial to Senate scrutiny

LAS VEGAS – Adam Laxalt is one of Nevada’s most prominent Republicans, someone who has already won statewide office and has received support from both former President Donald Trump and Republican leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell.

But in the final weeks leading up to Tuesday’s US Senate primary, Nevada’s former attorney general faced a surprisingly vigorous challenge from Sam Brown. A retired Army Captain and Purple Heart recipient, Brown has performed before a growing crowd drawn to his profile as a political outsider. He bolstered his campaign with strong fundraising numbers, particularly among small-dollar donors who often represent the party’s grassroots.

Regardless of the outcome, Brown’s late-stage forays could signal unrest in the GOP grassroots and an interest in sending political newcomers to Washington, a sentiment that rode Trump himself to the White House six years ago. The ultimate winner meets the Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto into what the GOPs may be best opportunity to flip a Senate seat and regain control of the chamber.

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Despite the intrigue surrounding the race, many Republicans still see Laxalt as best placed to win the nomination, not least because of Trump’s support.

“President Trump is by far the most popular Republican official in America,” said Corry Bliss, a Republican strategist who works on campaigns in the United States. “If you have his support and you have resources to promote it, you should win.”

Nevada Republicans are also picking a candidate to challenge Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak. Elsewhere, Republicans in South Carolina are considering whether to support two members of the US House of Representatives who have crossed Trump. And two longtime Maine rivals are poised to step up to what is likely the most competitive gubernatorial race in the US this fall.

Still, the Nevada Senate race is Tuesday’s most prominent competition.

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In a recent push in the days leading up to the primary, Laxalt held a phone rally with Trump and campaigned in Nevada with his son Donald Trump Jr. and his former acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist.

Laxalt is known in the state for having served as Nevada Attorney General for four years and unsuccessfully campaigning for governor in 2018. He is also the grandson of former US Senator Paul Laxalt.

And perhaps most importantly in GOP circles, he has close ties to the two Florida men viewed as the party’s most likely picks for the 2024 presidential nominee: Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantiswho was Laxalt’s roommate in the Navy and joined him at a rally in Las Vegas in April.

Laxalt worked on Trump’s re-election campaign and furthered his lies about voter fraud in the state after the 2020 election, including leading legal challenges to the vote counting process. Both Trump and DeSantis appeared in recent campaign ads for Laxalt and, facing the camera, described him as someone who can be trusted in a fight to “save” the country.

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But the party’s anti-establishment base has rallied behind Brown, who was badly burned by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan and has highlighted his personal story in his misfit crusade.

“I wasn’t born to power,” Brown declared in a recent campaign ad, in which he recounted how he nearly died in Afghanistan. He then smiles and says, “Turns out I’m hard to kill.”

Brown won the support of the Nevada Republican Party in a congressional vote in late April and a straw poll by the Las Vegas-area GOP at a convention in May, to the surprise of many in the state. Recent polls have shown it’s approaching Laxalt, though pollsters consider the state volatile with a transient population and many late-shift workers due to the state’s tourism and casino industries.

Though Laxalt is still the favorite to win, both candidates should have a similar chance in November to defeat Cortez Masto, who is expected to win her party’s support against several little-known contenders.

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“I imagine Laxalt would be a stronger candidate than Brown in general, but I don’t think it’s a material difference,” said Kenneth Miller, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

That’s because Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the Senate and successor to the late Senator Harry Reid, is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats standing for re-election this year.

Democrats are by and large facing headwinds this year, weighed down by an unpopular president and rising costs. In Nevada, residents of the sprawling Las Vegas suburbs or commuters from remote rural areas are feeling the effects of high gasoline prices.

The same factors could jeopardize the re-election of Sisolak, whose Republican challenger will emerge in Tuesday’s primary.

In the Nevada governor’s race, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo is the favorite in a crowded field and has earned Trump’s coveted endorsement.

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The former president notably snubbed another Republican candidate in the running, former US Senator Dean Heller. Heller was once a critic of Trump and blocked a GOP health plan, earning Heller a public scolding from the then president. But Heller eventually embraced Trump and yoked his 2018 re-election campaign with the man. Heller lost, and Trump accused the senator of once being “really hostile” towards him.

Also challenging Lombardo is Joey Gilbert, a northern Nevada attorney and former professional boxer who was outside the US Capitol when it was stormed on Jan. 6, 2021. Like Brown in the Senate race, Gilbert has garnered support from the party’s grassroots.

Trump’s false allegations of cheating in the 2020 election run through some of Tuesday’s contests, including the normally overlooked race for Nevada Secretary of State. Republican Barbara Cegavske, who was reprimanded by the Nevada GOP for declaring there was no cheating and defending the results as correct, is serving a time-limit. A crowded field of Republicans, who have worried to varying degrees about “electoral integrity,” are vying to replace her.

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In South Carolina, two Republicans in the US House of Representatives who have drawn Trump’s displeasure face challengers solicited by the former president.

US Rep. Nancy Mace, running in the state’s swinging 1st congressional district, is being challenged by former state Rep. Katie Arrington. She has slammed Mace for “turning his back” on Trump for criticizing his role in the Jan. 6 riot. Mace has still tried to show support for him, even filming a video in front of Trump Tower in New York.

In South Carolina’s 7th congressional district, Trump recruited a challenger to US Rep. Tom Rice, who was among the ten House Republicans who supported Trump’s second impeachment. Trump supports Rice’s main challenger, State Representative Russell Fry.

South Carolina also has five Democrats, including former US Rep. Joe Cunningham, vying for their party’s nomination for governor. The winner will face Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, who is expected to easily defeat two GOP rivals.

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In Maine, the area code for a Republican and a Democrat will be similarly easy. But it will be the official start of a bitter campaign between Democratic incumbent Janet Mills and former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, known nationally for his vulgar remarks and proclaiming himself “Trump before Trump existed.”

Like Trump, LePage moved to Florida after leaving office, but retired in 2020 and decided to run for a third term.

North Dakota is also holding an election Tuesday, but Republican US Senator John Hoeven is expected to easily win his primary.

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Price reported from New York.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/14/election-2022-nevada-gop-contest-crucial-to-senate-control/ Nevada GOP competition crucial to Senate scrutiny

Sarah Y. Kim

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