By MICHELLE L. PRICE and KEN RITTER
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Adam Laxalt won the Republican nomination Tuesday for a pivotal Nevada Senate seat, fending off a challenge from a political newcomer and setting up a fierce November contest to topple incumbent Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto in a race that could swing power in the U.S. Senate.
Laxalt is a former Nevada attorney general who had the backing of former President Donald Trump and the GOP establishment. But challenger Sam Brown harnessed support with the party’s grassroots and forced Laxalt to spend heavily and bring in Trump-world figures for late-stage support to lock up the primary.
“Together we have taken an important step tonight,” Laxalt said at an election night party in Reno, Nevada. “An important step in taking our country back, an important step in taking our great state of Nevada.”
With his nomination now secure, Laxalt turns to a general election campaign against Cortez Masto in what is expected to be one of the Republican Party’s best chances to flip a seat in the 50-50 Senate this fall.
Nevada is one of several states that held elections Tuesday, about midway through a primary season that could reshape American politics. The races offered a chance for Trump to regain momentum after high-profile stumbles last month in his bid to dominate the GOP ahead of another presidential run. The Trump-backed candidate for governor in Georgia, for instance, was defeated by a 50-point margin.
In addition to the Laxalt win, Trump helped lift a state lawmaker in South Carolina to take out Rep. Tom Rice, a five-term incumbent who backed the former president’s second impeachment last year. But in another South Carolina House race, incumbent Republican Rep. Nancy Mace prevailed in her primary despite Trump recruiting someone to try to unseat her.
Speaking to reporters after the results came in, Mace sought to strike a tone of consensus, pledging to “work with anyone who’s willing to work with me, full stop.”
For his part, Trump posted a statement on his social media platform saying Arrington was a “long shot” who ran a “great race.” He offered his congratulations to Mace, who he said should easily prevail over a Democrat in the fall.
Still, much of the focus Tuesday was on Nevada, where the winner in the GOP Senate contest would go on to face Democrat Cortez Masto in what may be the GOP’s best opportunity to regain control of the Senate.
Laxalt is well-known in the state for having served for four years as Nevada’s attorney general and campaigned unsuccessfully for governor in 2018. He’s also the grandson of former U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt.
And perhaps most importantly in GOP circles, he’s got ties to Trump. Laxalt worked on Trump’s reelection campaign and promoted his lies about election fraud in the state after the 2020 election. Trump in turn hosted Laxalt for a fundraiser at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, and appeared in a campaign ad for Laxalt.
But the party’s anti-establishment base muscled behind Brown, who was badly burned by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan and highlighted his personal story in his outsider crusade.
“I wasn’t born into power,” Brown declared in a recent campaign ad in which he recounted how he nearly died in Afghanistan. He then smiles, saying, “It turns out I’m hard to kill.”
Brown, to the surprise of many in the state, won the endorsement of the Nevada Republican Party at a convention vote in late April and a straw poll of the Las Vegas-area GOP at a May gathering. Recent polls showed him closing in on Laxalt, though the state, with a transient population and many late-shift workers due to the state’s tourism and casino industry, is considered fickle for pollsters.
Both candidates were expected to have a similar chance in November at defeating Cortez Masto, who handily won her party’s endorsement over several little-known competitors.
“I imagine that Laxalt would be a stronger candidate in the general than Brown, but I don’t think it’s a substantial 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 of the late Sen. Harry Reid, is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats running for reelection this year.
Democrats broadly are facing headwinds this year, burdened by an unpopular president and rising costs. In Nevada, high prices for gas are acutely felt by residents of Las Vegas’ sprawling suburbs or those commuting from far-flung rural areas.
Those same factors could imperil the reelection of Democratic incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak, who easily secured his party’s nomination and was awaiting his Republican challenger to emerge from Tuesday’s primary.
In the Nevada governor’s race, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo is considered the favorite in a crowded field and has earned the coveted endorsement from Trump.
The former president notably snubbed another Republican candidate in the race, former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, who was once a critic of Trump’s and earned a public scolding from the then-president.
Also challenging Lombardo is Joey Gilbert, a northern Nevada lawyer and former professional boxer who was outside the U.S. Capitol when it was stormed on Jan. 6, 2021. Like Brown in the Senate race, Gilbert has picked up support from the party’s base.
Trump’s false claims of fraud in the 2020 election are laced throughout some of Tuesday’s contests, including what’s normally a little-watched race for Nevada secretary of state. Republican Barbara Cegavske, who was censured by the Nevada GOP for declaring there was no fraud and defending the results as accurate, is term-limited. A crowded field of Republicans who have embraced “election integrity” concerns to varying degrees are vying to replace her.
Price reported from Washington.
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