RENO, Nev. — One day before early voting begins here, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto argued that voters should rebuke her GOP opponent at the ballot box for his role in promoting falsehoods about the 2020 election.
At an event meant to highlight her crossover appeal with Republicans, Cortez Masto, the Democratic incumbent, sought to tie Adam Laxalt to the violence that occurred on Jan. 6, where a mob of supporters who professed belief in then-President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen ransacked the U.S. Capitol.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Adam Laxalt, Donald Trump and others like them who peddled those lies and conspiracies right after the election fueled that violent mob,” Cortez Masto said, standing in the backyard of a GOP supporter in this key swing county.
“There should be consequences for people who undermine our democracy, who peddle the ‘Big Lie’ and conspiracy theories,” she added.
The Republicans in attendance all said they were backing the Democratic senator in part because of what they said was the dangerous rhetoric surrounding the 2020 election and Jan. 6 coming from some in their party.
Cortez Masto is locked in what appears to be dead heat against Laxalt, the Republican former attorney general of Nevada who has said the 2020 election was "rigged." The Real Clear Politics polling average shows Laxalt up by a razor thin 1.2%, within the margin of error.
"Adam Laxalt is busy pushing conspiracies and defending the absolutely indefensible," said Robert Cashell Jr. a lifelong Republican whose father was mayor of Reno and lieutenant governor. "This is irresponsible behavior that puts our democracy at risk and is not something we should accept from our elected representatives or those that are seeking office."
Laxalt, in his role as a Trump campaign co-chair, helped spearhead challenges to the 2020 results that courts rejected, mostly because of a lack of evidence. Nevada's Republican secretary of state last year issued an investigative report that found only 20 cases of potential voter fraud out of 4,000 alleged by the state GOP.
After launching his Senate campaign last year, Laxalt talked about filing lawsuits in the 2022 contest to "try to tighten up the election," according to a radio interview he did at the time. In that same interview, Laxalt said, “There’s no question they rigged the election,” referring to 2020.
In February of this year, Laxalt told The Associated Press in a statement that the "very few" who broke laws on Jan. 6 should be prosecuted.
More than 850 people have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack, and over 350 have pleaded guilty.
Laxalt also told The Associated Press that Democrats have exaggerated what transpired on Jan. 6. “This day was not the darkest day in American history, not even close,” he said in the February statement.
Cortez Masto's remarks on Friday suggest that Democrats may see the 2020 election and Jan. 6 as resonating in the closing days of the midterm contests in battleground states. In Nevada, Cortez Masto is battling to retain her Senate seat in a contest that could determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. Republicans view the race as one of their best pickup opportunities this fall.
Cortez Masto’s messaging is part of a concerted effort by her campaign focusing on Laxalt’s past remarks on voter fraud. As she closes out the race, she's focusing on three main issues, abortion, the economy and "the Big Lie," according to the campaign. The event on Friday coincides with series of TV ads Cortez Masto’s campaign has run in the final six weeks that focused heavily on violence around Jan. 6 and images of Laxalt on Fox News questioning the 2020 results.
Asked for comment on Friday, a Laxalt spokesman argued that Democrats in 2016 focused on Russian meddling in the election to downplay Trump's legitimacy. (The Department of Justice has charged various Russian nationals with international hacking and with spreading disinformation.)
“Cortez Masto’s big lie is that she is anything but a partisan rubber stamp for Joe Biden and the extreme left,” Laxalt spokesman Brian Freimuth said in a statement.