(CN) — Adam Laxalt won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, toppling a political newcomer in a surprisingly tough contest that took place in the shadow of former president Donald Trump.
“Together we have taken an important step tonight — an important step in taking our country back, an important step in taking our great state of Nevada,” Laxalt said at his election party in Reno.
Laxalt will face off against Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto in a race that could affect the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.
Cortez Masto may have the upper hand in a state where urban demographics and an influx of Latinos have handed the Democratic Party resounding wins in the last several elections.
However, with Hispanic voters souring on President Joe Biden, Republicans believe they can make headway in Nevada with Laxalt on the top of their ticket.
Laxalt was the attorney general of Nevada and is something of political royalty in the Silver State, as he is the grandson of former governor and former U.S. Senator Paul Laxalt. His father, Pete Domeci, was a Republican senator who represented New Mexico in the U.S. Senate.
He resigned as Attorney General in 2019 to head Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and was one of the most outspoken and prominent politicians who questioned the integrity of the election in Nevada, where Trump lost to Biden by about 33,500 votes.
Laxalt said he found about 3,000 individuals who had voted for Biden who claimed to reside in Clark County, home to Las Vegas, but did not. Later analysis indicated some of the names that the Trump campaign accused of “criminal voter fraud” had cast their ballots from military bases or diplomatic posts.
Laxalt beat Sam Brown, a small business owner and Army veteran who was wounded in the Iraq War and mounted a surprisingly successful campaign despite — or perhaps thanks to — his relative lack of political experience. Brown forced Laxalt to spend heavily to win the nomination.
Attention will now turn to the general election as national pundits believe the race for Nevada’s seat in the U.S. Senate presents one of the best opportunities for Republicans to take back the upper house, which is currently split 50-50.
Joe Lombardo, Clark County Sheriff, won the Republican nomination for governor and will face off against Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak. Lombardo beat out a full slate of other Republican candidates including former U.S. Senator Dean Heller, former boxer Joey Gilbert and John Lee, mayor of North Las Vegas.
Heller’s political fortunes have fallen far as a direct result of his taking on Trump, saying he was “99% against Trump” early on in the president’s term. Trump remains popular among a sizeable portion of Republican voters in Nevada, but he is also anathema for Democrats and centrists, so both Lombardo and Laxalt will have to keep him at arm’s length if they are to prevail in November’s general election.
“The Trump side of the aisle is extremely important during the primary, but it’s a question about whether it becomes a liability in the general election,” Mike Noble, a pollster with OH Predictive Insights, recently told Courthouse News.
The approximately 18% of voters who are undecided could be turned off by unfounded claims of election fraud, Noble said. But he also noted pocketbook issues like gas prices, general inflation and other economic conditions could supersede dishonesty about voter fraud come election time.
Lombardo has criticized Sisolak’s approach to Covid restrictions, saying he kept the state closed for too long and hurt the economy. He also said that the governor’s decision to enlist the police to enforce public health mandates inspired him to run for office.
Laxalt also criticized Cortez Masto for her border policy, being soft on crime, unsupportive of police and too cozy with the Democratic elite in Washington.
But Lombardo also stopped short of calling the 2020 presidential election stolen and has generally struck a more moderate posture than Gilbert and some of the other firebrands in the race.
Cortez Masto offered no kind words for Laxalt late Tuesday evening.
“Laxalt was a corrupt AG who led Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election,” his Democrat opponent said. “On top of that, he opposes a woman’s right to choose. Laxalt is out for himself, not Nevada.”
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.