Michelle L. by Price and Ken Ritter
LAS VEGAS ( Associated Press) – Donald Trump posted a remarkable victory Tuesday when voters in South Carolina ousted five-term Republicans who supported the former president’s impeachment last year. But another Trump critic in the state withdrew a primary challenge, and the results were looming in Nevada, where a Senate race tested Trump’s influence on the GOP even more.
Nevada’s Senate GOP primary was originally expected to be a cakewalk for one of the state’s most prominent Republicans, Adam Laxault, who has already won statewide office and garnered support from both Trump and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. have been
Yet in the final weeks before Tuesday’s primary, the former Nevada attorney general faced a surprisingly spirited challenge from Sam Browne. A retired Army captain and Purple Heart recipient, Brown poses in front of a crowd flocking to his profile as a political outsider. He bolstered his campaign with strong fundraising numbers, particularly among small-dollar donors who often represent the party’s grassroots.
Nevada and South Carolina were among several states holding elections in the middle of the primary season that could reshape American politics. The race gave Trump a chance to gain momentum after another high-profile stumbling block last month in his bid to dominate the GOP for the presidency. For example, a Trump-backed candidate for governor in Georgia was defeated by a margin of 50 points.
But on Tuesday in neighboring South Carolina, one of Trump’s top GOP targets, Rep. Tom Rice, lost his primary last year after endorsing the former president’s second impeachment. Trump endorsed Rice’s rival, state Representative Russell Fry, and even traveled to the heavily Republican district earlier this year to encourage residents to vote against his congressman.
In another South Carolina House race, however, incumbent Republican Representative Nancy Mays won her primary, while Trump recruited someone to try to oust her. Mays defeated former state legislator Katie Arrington, even though she had attracted Trump’s displeasure for criticizing her role in the January 6 uprising.
Speaking to reporters after the results were out, Mays sought to strike a consensus tone, saying, “Whoever is willing to work with me, pledges to work with a full stop.”
For his part, Trump posted a statement on his social media platform, saying Arrington was a “long shot” who ran a “great run.” He congratulated Mace, which he said should easily triumph over the Democrats in the fall.
Still, much of Tuesday’s focus was on Nevada, where the winner of the GOP Senate contest would face Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in what could be the GOP’s best opportunity to flip a Senate seat and regain control of the chamber.
Laxalt is best known in the state for serving four years as Nevada’s attorney general and unsuccessfully campaigning for governor in 2018. He is also the grandson of former US Sen. Paul Laxault.
And perhaps most importantly, in GOP circles, he has a connection to Trump. Laxalt worked on Trump’s re-election campaign and promoted his lies about electoral fraud in the state after the 2020 election. Trump in turn hosted Laxalt for a fundraiser at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, and appeared in a campaign ad for Laxalt.
But the party’s anti-incumbency base has repelled Brown, who was badly burned by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan and has uncovered his personal story in his outlandish crusade.
“I was not born to power,” Brown declared in a recent campaign ad describing how he nearly died in Afghanistan. He then smiles and says, “It turns out I’m hard to kill.”
Brown, to the surprise of many in the state, won the support of the Nevada Republican Party in a convention vote in late April and a straw poll of the Las Vegas-area GOP in a May gathering. Recent elections have closed them in Laxalt, although the state is known to be vulnerable to polluters due to the state’s tourism and casino industry, with a transitory population and many late-shift workers.
Although Laxault is still considered the favorite to win, both candidates are expected to have an equal chance of defeating Cortez Masto in November, who won his party’s support over several little-known competitors.
“I think Laxalt would be a stronger candidate in general than Brown, but I don’t think that’s a big difference,” said Kenneth Miller, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.
That’s because Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the Senate and successor to the late Sen. Harry Reid, is considered one of the weakest Democrats to run for re-election this year.
Democrats, burdened by an unpopular president and rising costs, are facing a rough headwind this year. In Nevada, high gas prices are felt acutely by residents of the sprawling suburbs of Las Vegas or commuters from remote rural areas.
The same factors could risk the re-election of Democratic incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak, who easily secured his party’s nomination and waited for his Republican challenger to emerge from Tuesday’s primary.
In the race for Nevada governor, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo is considered a favorite in the crowded field and has earned coveted endorsement from Trump.
The former president notably turned down another Republican candidate in the race, former US Sen. Dean Heller, who was once a critic of Trump and publicly scolded the then-president.
Also challenging Lombardo is Northern Nevada lawyer and former professional boxer Joy Gilbert, who was outside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Like Brown in the Senate race, Gilbert has garnered support from the party’s base.
Trump’s false claims of fraud in the 2020 election have been implicated in some of Tuesday’s contests, including a typically little-seen run for Nevada’s secretary of state. Republican Barbara Segawaske, who was condemned by the Nevada GOP for declaring there was no fraud and defending the results accurately, is limited. A crowded field of Republicans, who have embraced “electoral integrity” concerns to varying degrees, are vying to replace them.
Price reported from Washington.
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