Politics GOP letting it ride on Adam Laxalt as they target Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada Senate race
At the Races: California dreamin’
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Nevada Republicans looking to reverse years of disappointment at the top of the ticket are betting on Adam Laxalt, who is poised this month to announce his bid to challenge Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in 2022.
Laxalt is unlikely to face meaningful competition in the GOP primary and has a clear path to the nomination, Republican insiders in Nevada say. The party is counting on the former state attorney general and 2018 candidate for governor to win a major statewide race with critical implications for the Senate majority in Washington after watching its presidential, Senate, and gubernatorial nominees come up short in the three previous elections.
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Laxalt, a Reno-based attorney, is the son of former U.S. Senator Pete Domenici and a grandson of former Nevada Governor and U.S. Senator Paul Laxalt. During his tenure as attorney general, Laxalt butted heads with Republican Governor Brian Sandoval and his moderate allies in the state party.Democrats have won the past two Senate races in Nevada by fewer than five points but fear a low-turnout election similar to 2014—the last midterm contest held with a Democrat in the White House.
“The Republican nominee will be Laxalt,” a GOP strategist in the state said. “He will break every fundraising record and run a very aggressive campaign — he will put himself in position to win if the state trends back Republican.”
Some political observers are questioning Laxalt’s viability and believe he does not give Republicans their best opportunity to beat Cortez Masto. Democrats in Nevada warn Laxalt could win anyway and are pleading with their compatriots not to assume Nevada is safe. Keeping Cortez Masto in Washington, they emphasize, will only happen if the party invests big in her reelection bid.
“Nevadans and progressives in this state have to take Laxalt very seriously,” said Annette Magnus, a spokeswoman for the liberal group Battle Born Progress. “We are not a blue state, and anyone who says we’re a blue state is dead wrong.”
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Laxalt, 42, is the grandson of Paul Laxalt, the Republican former Nevada governor and senator who died three years ago this month. He was elected state attorney general in 2014, a wave election for the Republican Party. But Laxalt went on to lose his bid for governor in 2018, a wave election for the Democratic Party. Other top races in Nevada, a traditional swing state, tracked similarly, although recent elections have trended blue.
Cortez Masto won a close race in 2016, keeping former Sen. Harry Reid’s seat in the Democratic fold. Two years later, fellow Democrat Jacky Rosen ousted Republican Sen. Dean Heller. Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump lost Nevada twice, albeit narrowly. Laxalt supporters believe he has what it takes for Republicans to turn things around, especially with a Democrat, President Joe Biden, in the White House.
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“[Cortez] Masto is extremely vulnerable,” said Chris Wilson, a Republican pollster advising Laxalt, via email. “All polling I’ve seen (public and private) show her unknown and unpopular with those who do know her. Further, Adam Laxalt has solid name [identification] from his past races and is very popular with both the base and with independents.”
Laxalt has cultivated a loyal following among grassroots conservatives in Nevada and forged close relationships with prominent Republicans across the country.
The former attorney general twice served as Trump Nevada’s campaign chairman. On Saturday, Laxalt’s sixth annual Basque Fry in Northern Nevada is set to feature contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, including Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Also scheduled to appear at the event are former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp.
But to win a general election in a competitive swing state such as Nevada, Laxalt has to prove that he can appeal to voters outside of conservative circles. He needs to run strong with suburban women and dominate with independents, a cohort that is growing as a share of the Nevada electorate. Democrats are unconvinced he can, pointing to Laxalt’s one major statewide victory.
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In 2014, a strong Republican year, Laxalt won the attorney general’s race with a meager 46.2% of the vote while losing Nevada’s two biggest counties, Clark and Washoe, even as GOP candidates for governor and lieutenant governor won with more than 70% and nearly 60%, respectively. Four years later, Laxalt received fewer votes in his losing campaign for governor than four other Republicans who ran statewide and lost.
“[Cortez] Masto is favored because of voter registration, a current fundraising advantage, and incumbency,” a Nevada Republican insider said. “But [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell and DC Republicans are all-in on Laxalt. He can win, but he will have to run a better campaign than he did four years ago and will have to expose [Cortez] Masto’s weaknesses sooner than later.”
With Senate Democrats clinging to a 50-seat majority, courtesy of Vice President Kamala Harris's tiebreaking vote, the Nevada contest could tip the balance of power in Washington.
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Somehow or other, Democratic senators in tough 2022 reelection races aren’t posturing and holding the Biden agenda hostage to show their independence.Manchin gets some benefit of the doubt because his state is profoundly Republican: West Virginia gave Trump his second-best percentage in 2020 (68 percent), trailing only Wyoming as super-MAGA country. If he has any thought of running for another Senate term in 2024 (and why wouldn’t he, since he’s nine months younger than presumed 2024 presidential candidate Joe Biden), Manchin absolutely has to triangulate against his own party. And he has always been consistently on the outer conservative edge of its ideological spectrum.