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Adam Laxalt wins Nevada Republican Senate primary, will face Cortez Masto

Laxalt’s victory was also one for Trump, whose record in picking winners in Republican primaries this year has been mixed.
Republican Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt speaks at a campaign event in Las Vegas on Saturday.
Republican Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt speaks at a campaign event in Las Vegas on Saturday.John Locher / AP

LAS VEGAS — Former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt has won the state’s Republican Senate primary, NBC News projects, fending off a late challenge from retired Army Capt. Sam Brown.

Laxalt, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, had 56 percent of the vote just after 1 a.m. ET, while Brown, whose prospects had risen in recent weeks amid a surge of grassroots support, got 33 percent.

His victory was also one for Trump, whose record in picking winners in Republican primaries this year has been mixed.

Laxalt advances to the general election against the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who easily bested primary challengers Tuesday night, NBC News projects. The general election between Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the Senate, and Laxalt is expected to be one of the most competitive in the U.S. and could determine control of the chamber this fall.

Trump's pick in the Republican race for governor, Joe Lombardo, also won Tuesday night. Jim Marchant, a prominent election denier and former Nevada state legislator, won the Republican secretary of state primary.

Both parties also held primaries for all four of the state's congressional districts. The nonpartisan Cook Political report has rated the three currently held by Democratic incumbents — the First Congressional District, held by Rep. Dina Titus; the Third Congressional District, held by Rep. Susie Lee; and the Fourth Congressional District, held by Rep. Steven Horsford — as toss-ups.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., at a legislative hearing last week.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., at a legislative hearing last week.Francis Chung / E&E News/POLITICO via AP

Meanwhile, recent polling has shown Laxalt ahead of Cortez Masto in a hypothetical matchup, though the results are within the margin of error. President Joe Biden won Nevada two years ago by fewer than 34,000 votes, and the Cook Political report has rated the state’s race for governor a toss-up.

In the opening salvo of what's expected to be a bruising race to come, Cortez Masto slammed her newly minted November opponent just moments after NBC News called the GOP contest for Laxalt as a "corrupt" candidate who "Nevadans don't trust."

“Adam Laxalt is only out for himself, not Nevada, which is why he was overwhelmingly rejected in his last campaign,” said Cortez Masto campaign spokesman Josh Marcus-Blank. “He was a corrupt attorney general and he has become even worse since his failed campaign for governor."

Laxalt emerged late in the evening, greeted by about three dozen people who waited in a private room of the Tamarack Casino in Reno. Laxalt focused his remarks what he said what the job ahead: beating Cortez-Masto, who he painted as beholden to Biden and shared blame for high gas prices and inflation.

“We have a dangerous trend of empowering the few, the powerful elites, at the expense of our hard working men and women. At the expense of moms and dads. At the expense of small businesses, at the expense of those far from the upper echelons of power,” he said. “And this is about to come to a halt.”

Laxalt paid tribute to his opponent, Brown, who he called “an American hero, who nearly lost his life serving our nation on the battlefield Afghanistan.” Brown is new to Nevada politics but garnered more than 30 percent of the vote on Tuesday.

Laxalt, the Nevada attorney general from 2015 to 2019 who vociferously opposed the 2020 election results, had for months stood as the presumed shoo-in for the party’s nomination. But in recent weeks, Brown had emerged as an insurgent outsider, building grassroots support and closing the gap in polling.

With Brown building momentum, Laxalt — who co-chaired Trump’s 2020 campaign in Nevada and led the effort to challenge the state’s election results — flashed his Trump clout, bringing in several of the former president’s allies to rally and knock on doors with him in the race’s closing days. 

On Friday night, Donald Trump Jr. held a rally for Laxalt in Las Vegas, where they were joined on stage by Trump’s former acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker. Two days earlier, Trump himself held a telerally with Laxalt supporters, urging them to back his onetime Nevada presidential campaign co-chair. That followed in-state visits by prominent Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Richard Grenell, acting director of national intelligence during the Trump administration.

It was more than enough to hold off Brown, who, in an interview with NBC News on Tuesday in Las Vegas before the polls closed, vowed to support Laxalt if he won, and work to unite Republicans in the state.

“In the event that we’re not successful tonight, we’re absolutely going to work all the way down ballot to ensure that Republicans have the best opportunity to win in November, and that’s something I’m committed to,” Brown said.

In other statewide races in Nevada, the Republican primary for attorney general remained too close to call, with attorney Sigal Chattah leading attorney Tisha Black 49 percent to 41 percent with 52 percent of the vote counted. The winner will go up against incumbent Democratic attorney general Aaron Ford. The Republican primary for lieutenant governor was also too close to call. The winner of the race between Stavros Anthony and Tony Grady will go up against Lisa Cano Burkhead.

In the Senate race, Laxalt’s victory came after signals that Brown — whom Laxalt barely mentioned at the beginning of the race — was making progress toward closing a previous 38-point gap in the polls.

By Tuesday, however, the contest had boiled down to the might of national MAGA figures for Laxalt against Brown, who'd garnered more than 40,000 individual contributors with his posture as an outsider and his harrowing personal story of a near-death experience in Afghanistan that left him disfigured. Brown was endorsed by the state Republican Party and kept pace with Laxalt’s fundraising, pulling in $4 million to Laxalt’s $5.9 million. Brown also narrowly outspent Laxalt on the airwaves, dropping $1.1 million on ads through the primaries, while Laxalt has spent $959,000 through Tuesday, according to data from AdImpact.

The concerted push behind Laxalt, who enjoys considerable name recognition given his role as a former statewide office holder, has also included the marshaling of resources from outside groups, like Club for Growth, underscoring the long odds Brown had to overcome to build on the momentum he started gaining last month.

The Laxalt name has been a brand in Nevada GOP politics for decades because Laxalt’s grandfather Paul Laxalt, who died in 2018, served both as governor and a U.S. senator. And former New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, who died in 2017, was his father.

Brown aggressively tried to use that against Laxalt. Speaking to NBC News, he argued, without mentioning Laxalt by name, that “the folks I’m running against” were from “political families.”

“People are looking for representatives and leaders who are not seeking to divide or to make themselves more of a celebrity, but to actually go to work for people,” he said.

But many Republican voters in Clark County seemed to embrace Laxalt’s legacy and even his existing connections to Washington.

Petra Doerr, of Clark County, voted for Laxalt, saying he had “just the right amount of ties to D.C. — but not too many.”

“It helps to have some ties, if you want to get things done,” said Doerr, who added that Trump’s endorsement of Laxalt helped inform her own decision. 

Tom Berenato, a Clark County resident who works in medical sales, said he voted for Laxalt because he was “the known commodity.”

He said he'd cast a ballot for both Laxalt and GOP gubernatorial candidate Joe Lombardo in part because they’d both received Trump’s endorsement.

“We know him," he said of Laxalt, "and I know he’ll do a good job for us."