GOP hopes Nevada’s Laxalt will help win Senate control
LAS VEGAS (AP) — The man Republicans hope will be their 51st senator, returning them to power, recently took the stage at a raucous country music bar in Las Vegas filled with cheering voters.
Adam Laxalt is the grandson of a Republican senator from Nevada and an avowed conservative who served as the state’s attorney general before losing a gubernatorial race in 2018. Beside him in the bar was the governor of Florida , Ron DeSantis, a likely contender for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination who had just emerged from its legislation punishing Disney for opposing its new law banning sexual orientation and gender identity instructions from the kindergarten to third grade.
Laxalt has previously been criticized for going too hard on winning a race in a state that has elected mostly Democrats for the past 15 years. But he called Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, his potential opponent in November, the partisan problem.
“Nevada deserves someone who will break with the radical left and stand with our state when we need courage,” Laxalt said to cheers from supporters holding “Patriots for Laxalt” signs. “We need independence and someone who will break with this party and stand with us.”
Nevada is at the heart of GOP hopes this year to retake the evenly divided Senate and potentially make longer-term inroads with minority voters. It’s the third-most diverse state, but Democratic margins have steadily narrowed here since 2008, when Barack Obama became his party’s first presidential candidate to carry Nevada in 12 years.
Unseating Cortez Masto would not only give Republicans the extra seat needed for control — provided they don’t lose any seats they currently hold — but boast greater appeal among immigrant communities.
It would also be a sign that there are fewer obstacles to aggressive conservatives than expected.
Laxalt served a single term as Nevada Attorney General, then was soundly beaten in his 2018 gubernatorial bid. In 2020, he co-chaired President Donald Trump’s campaign in Nevada and repeated the lies of Trump on the election swept up in voter fraud.
Laxalt is also a staunch opponent of abortion rights, which Democrats hope will become a greater vulnerability if the U.S. Supreme Court follows through on a draft opinion released last week that would overturn the landmark ruling. Roe versus Wade. His dilemma quickly became clear when he simultaneously hailed the potential opinion as “a historic victory for the sanctity of life” but downplayed its impact in Nevada, where voters have written abortion rights into the state constitution in 1990.
Cortez Masto, whose staff said she was unavailable to interview for this story, attempted to highlight the contrast in the race.
“My opponent says overturning Roe v. Wade and ending protections for a woman’s right to choose is a ‘historic victory,'” she tweeted. “I trust women and their doctors to make the health decisions that are best for them – not politicians.”
Laxalt’s conservative positions go well beyond abortion. He warned he could sue to challenge the election even before the November vote. As attorney general, he argued with the state’s moderate Republican governor over guns, taxes and immigration.
Republicans say that won’t matter in a year when inflation is at a 40-year high and President Joe Biden’s approval numbers are at record highs.
“This election will be about inflation, gas prices and Joe Biden’s first two years in office,” said Jeremy Hughes, a GOP strategist in the state. “In this scenario, Adam Laxalt is in line with a large majority of Nevada voters.”
There is a story in Nevada, however, of a Democratic senator defying the odds during a Republican wave year. In 2010, Sen. Harry Reid beat GOP challenger Sharron Angle by describing her as extreme on immigration and unfit for higher office. Democrats have similar plans for Laxalt.
“Voters have already voted him down,” said Cortez Masto campaign spokesman Josh Marcus-Blank. “He only got worse.”
Reid, a legendary figure in Nevada and national politics, died of pancreatic cancer last year. He chose Cortez Masto, herself a former attorney general, as the Democratic candidate when he retired in 2016. Cortez Masto is the first Latin American senator. This year’s election will be the first test of Reid’s vaunted political operation since his death.
When his political machine worked, Democrats were able to win over Nevada by rallying its heavily working-class minority population with promises to protect their economic interests, their immigration needs, or both.
But because the state has a very transient population and Democrats rely on poorer voters in communities who are less likely to vote, it is very costly to get enough people to run. When there isn’t enough campaign money available to the party — like in 2014, the year Laxalt was elected attorney general — Democrats can be crushed.
Cortez Masto proved to be a prolific fundraiser, with $11 million in cash at the end of March.
But with grassroots Democratic voters, especially young people, depressed by Biden’s performance, it may be difficult to train the voters the incumbent needs. The problem will depend on issues specific to Nevada, said Andres Ramirez, a Democratic strategist in Las Vegas.
“This election, at least in Nevada, will have less to do with Biden and more to do with our own internal candidates and turnout,” Ramirez said.
Laxalt is not yet the Republican candidate. He faces four other candidates in the June 14 primary, including Sam Brown, a former US Army captain who earned a Purple Heart after being seriously injured in Afghanistan.
But Laxalt has Trump’s endorsement, as well as the support of a large swath of the GOP establishment, as seen last week when he was joined in campaign appearances in the Las Vegas by DeSantis and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Although it’s a long flight from Washington, Nevada has become a popular destination for politicians planning to run for president. The state holds one of the top four nominating contests in the nation — Nevada’s 2020 caucus was sandwiched between the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries — and is also home to several deep-pocketed Republican donors.
Republicans also continue to have high hopes for their prospects in the Silver State, believing Cortez Masto hasn’t proven to be as nimble and pugilist as a politician as her predecessor, Reid.
Unlike in 2010, when Reid made advocating for a pro-immigrant bill known as the DREAM Act the centerpiece of his re-election bid, Cortez Masto joined other Democrats in challenging questioned Biden’s efforts to roll back pandemic rules that made it harder for border commuters. seek asylum in the United States
Laxalt argues that it should have changed its approach sooner.
“If she had decided to be the moderate she was going to run, if she had decided to be Joe Manchin, she could have gotten whatever she wanted for this state,” Laxalt told a Republican country audience. suburban Henderson club, referring to the West Virginia moderate. Democrat who blocked large parts of Biden’s agenda. “She could have stood up to the president and said, ‘Not for our state of Nevada.'”
So far, Cortez Masto has stuck to low-key events promoting his ability to score victories for Nevada, like securing $450 million for water recycling and sanitation projects. $3.4 billion to fight wildfires as part of last year’s bipartisan infrastructure package.
“The senator is getting her state,” her campaign spokesman Marcus-Blank said. “She was able to do a lot and make a big difference.”
Riccardi reported from Denver.
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