Attack ads are already airing and campaign fundraising emails are pouring into inboxes as one of the nation’s most competitive U.S. Senate races unfolds in Nevada, where candidates will juggle with lingering concerns about election integrity and inflation rising at its fastest pace. in decades.
The race between incumbent Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto and former state attorney general Adam Laxalt will hinge on the candidates’ respective ties to President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, according to political watchers.
Laxalt, the grandson of a former US senator from Nevada, co-chaired Trump’s re-election campaign in Nevada and led unsuccessful legal challenges to overturn the state’s 2020 election results based on false allegations electoral fraud.
His campaign has drawn support from top Republican Party leaders, including Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and U.S. senses Josh Hawley of Missouri, Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
Days before the primary, Laxalt held rallies with Donald Trump Jr. and 2020 election results deniers in Las Vegas and Carson City.
In 2020, Biden won Nevada by just over two percentage points. The state has rejected every GOP presidential candidate since George W. Bush in 2004.
Unknowns ahead of the November election include how Trump’s endorsement will sway voters, whether Cortez Masto will seek Biden’s help, and whether GOP and Democratic campaigns can reach nonpartisan voters.
Democratic voters slightly outnumber Republicans in Nevada, according to the latest numbers from the secretary of state’s office. The state also has more than 627,000 nonpartisan voters who could swing the result either way.
Cortez Masto, who is the first Latina to serve in the Senate, won six years ago as the hand-picked successor to longtime Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. She had the backing of Reid’s formidable political machine.
Today, she is seen as a vulnerable incumbent whose loss in an off-year election could tip the Senate into Republican control.
Previously, candidates moved to the center as part of their post-primary strategy, said Christina Ladam, assistant professor of political science at the University of Nevada-Reno.
“Really, since 2016 we’ve seen candidates stick to more extreme views in the general election,” she said, particularly the Conservative candidates.
Whether it’s mobilizing the party base or reaching swing voters is a question all campaigns need to ask as they move into the primary, said Dan Lee, professor of political science at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
Tying Cortez Masto to broader topics including the Biden administration, rising gas prices and inflation, Lee said Republicans could potentially do both.
“That’s basically what they were doing in the primaries,” he said. “When they weren’t attacking the (Republican primary) candidates, they were attacking Biden and Democratic politicians.”
In his victory speech in a casino back room far from the sounds of slot machines, Laxalt appealed to his base and mocked what he called the ‘Biden-Masto vision for America’ .
“She worked very hard to serve the progressive left in Washington, DC,” Laxalt said from a podium where large nearby screens were tuned to Fox News.
He accused Cortez Masto of being “a rubber stamp for a radical ideology that attacks our values, our culture, and the very fabric of our nation.”
He spoke out against high gas prices and inflation, open borders and human trafficking. He alluded to gun control measures imposed by Democrats in the wake of the mass shootings. Naming Biden and Cortez Masto, he blamed “radical elites” for the failed policies.
For her part, Cortez Masto often distanced herself from her own party and instead relayed a message of what she said she brought to Nevada. His campaign highlighted federal support for lowering unemployment rates from pre-pandemic levels.
At campaign events, speeches and ads, Cortez Masto has hit back at Laxalt, suggesting he has an affinity for fossil fuels since working for a Washington, D.C. law firm that has customers of oil companies. She also called him corrupt for his efforts to overturn the results of Nevada’s 2020 presidential election and tried to put him at odds with female voters because of his stance on abortion.
She portrayed Laxalt as being “for himself, not for Nevada”.
The day after the primary, a Cortez Masto ad attacked Laxalt, accusing it of blocking a state investigation into ExxonMobil when he was attorney general in 2016. The ad tied $2.5 million that Laxalt had received for his 2018 gubernatorial campaign to oil companies and wealthy conservative politicians. donors the Koch brothers.
Laxalt, which ended its primary season campaign with a series of ads showing it alongside Trump, was quick to run its own ad to kick off the general election race. In it, a narrator talks about “chaos on our streets,” insecure borders, inflation, and reliance on foreign oil while showing a photo of Cortez Masto and Biden standing side by side.
Gabe Stern is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues. Follow Gabe on Twitter here.