By Kyung Lah, CNN
Even with the clock still ticking down to Tuesday’s Nevada primary, Republican Senate candidate Adam Laxalt has already set his sights on November — and his would-be opponent, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.
“She’s the most vulnerable senator in America,” Laxalt told a group of supporters in Summerlin, a suburban neighborhood of Las Vegas on Saturday. “It’s our time to flip Nevada and save our country.”
In a state that President Joe Biden won by 2 points in 2020, Laxalt’s campaign sees an opportunity to reverse the advances Democrats have made in this battleground state, making the closing argument about the balance of national power. And instead of focusing on lies about the 2020 election — the former state attorney general had filed lawsuits attempting to overturn Nevada’s results — he has, in the final days, instead focused on the economic issues weighing down vulnerable Democrats this midterm cycle: inflation, energy and gas prices.
Calling them “the Biden administration’s failed policies,” he attempted to tie Cortez Masto to a President who has seen his job approval dip below 40% in recent polls.
“Here in our state, in Reno, it hit $6 yesterday, an all-time high,” Laxalt said before the crowd. “People are experiencing this every single day. They’re experiencing inflation all across this valley, which again was the reckless spending, a bill Sen. Masto voted for and pushed through. And here we are.”
The decision to home in on the economy comes as Washington is focused on the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection, as it hosts historic, multi-day hearings.
Laxalt didn’t mention the hearings once.
Cristina Ramos, a Laxalt supporter, called the January 6 hearings an attempt to “flip the script” on the truth—then she repeated several right-wing lies about what happened at the US Capitol that day.
Dick Geyer, another Laxalt supporter, said he believed Democrats were trying to “destroy the country” and called Laxalt “the only chance we have to reverse that. If we don’t reverse that, this country is doomed, understand? Doomed.”
Trump’s presence hung over the entire Laxalt event, as it has in the months leading up to the primary. After Laxalt’s repetition of Trump’s lies about 2020, the former President endorsed him last August. (Laxalt also has the support of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.)
Trump allies have descended on the state to shore up support in recent weeks, including Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and this past weekend, Trump’s former acting US attorney General Matt Whitaker.
Grassroots support for political newcomer
Trump-world’s arrival into the state coincides with a late surge by underdog Republican candidate Sam Brown. A political newcomer to Nevada, Brown saw an influx of small-donor donations from an enthusiastic grassroots base, giving him the ability to challenge Laxalt by buying ad time across TV, radio and digital. Brown just barely outpaced Laxalt in ad spending this primary, spending $1,087,689 to Laxalt’s $959,306.
“It’s a type of campaign that would make Bernie Sanders jealous,” Brown told a registered Republican voter, saying they’ve had tens of thousands of donors and raised millions of dollars.
On the last weekend ahead of the primary, Brown walked door to door in a Las Vegas neighborhood as the temperatures soared to a record 109 degrees. Injured in Afghanistan and awarded a Purple Heart, Brown wears his Army service on his body, scarred from an IED explosion.
That personal experience has been a potent part of his messaging, as laid out in an introductory ad on his determination.
Brown snagged the endorsement from the Nevada Republican Party, making the argument that Laxalt, a member of one of Nevada’s political dynasties, was too close to the Republican establishment and failed to follow through on the lawsuits he filed attempting to overturn the election.
But Brown said in an interview with CNN that what he’s criticizing is that Laxalt failed to produce the evidence, resulting in an empty charge. It’s a narrow tightrope that Brown is walking ahead of the primary, trying to weave the truth and political expediency with the Trump base.
When asked what Brown thinks happened in the 2020 election, he said, “Joe Biden won. He won across the country and is sitting in the White House as a result of that. People want to kind of go back and litigate that. But we’ve got to focus on moving forward.”
Lack of Democratic enthusiasm
In another part of Las Vegas, the Culinary Union, Democrats’ largest get-out-the-vote machine in Nevada, canvassed door to door. Wearing giant hats and clutching electronic tablets of voter information, Ariana Tovar and her team walked slowly through the searing heat.
Tovar has been walking six days a week, 10 hours a day since late March. A Latina housekeeper in a casino, Tovar sees Cortez Masto, the country’s first Latina senator, as someone whom she’s determined to keep in office.
The Culinary Union, representing 60,000 hospitality workers in Nevada’s biggest cities, is a majority people of color organization and has been a potent force in turning out Democratic voters in Clark County, the largest in the state.
But Tovar admitted this midterm won’t be easy based on what she’s hearing at the doors.
“They’re mad at Democrats,” Tovar said. “I don’t think it’s the Democrats’ fault but it’s gonna be tough. We’re gonna work for Democrats. That’s why we’re doing this, to help them.”
The lack of enthusiasm with Democratic voters is what Cortez Masto plans to target after the primary, where she is unchallenged. Her campaign directed CNN to her previous rallies on abortion rights and an ad that attacked Laxalt’s positions on reproductive rights and birth control. With a Supreme Court decision that could overturn Roe v. Wade expected this month, Cortez Masto believes Democrats, especially women, will be motivated by the issue and head to the polls.
Democrats anticipate their argument, like the Republicans, will hinge on control over the US Senate.
Tovar knocked on Juan Maya’s door, a registered Democrat. Maya immediately recognized the Culinary Union’s ubiquitous red shirts, because they had been at his door in previous election cycles.
“I’m not so happy,” Maya said about his party. He immediately followed up that he wouldn’t vote for Republicans, though. Then he gave voice to the biggest problem that may face weary Democrats this November.
“I’d probably not vote than vote for Republicans or Democrats, just because I don’t feel confident.”
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