Two of the top Republicans vying to unseat incumbent Democrat Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto this fall sparred over election integrity while showing very little light between their respective stances on host of other issues from abortion to immigration in their first debate of the U.S. senatorial primary.
The hour-long debate, which was hosted by Nevada Newsmakers — a Reno-based current events talk show — may be the only time that former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt and Army veteran Sam Brown, a political newcomer in Nevada, face off this primary cycle before the June 14 primary election and comes with just over two weeks before mail-in ballots must be sent out to voters.
Nevada’s senatorial race will be one of the most watched in the country over the next seven months as it could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate going into the second half of President Joe Biden’s first term.
Laxalt has long been considered by political observers the favorite to get the Republican nod and the chance to challenge Cortez Masto in the general election, and has the backing of the Republican Party’s top brass, including the endorsement of former President Donald Trump.
Brown meanwhile has posted surprisingly strong fundraising numbers since jumping into the race, but so far has not been able to cut into Laxalt’s lead in the polls. An Emerson College/KLAS Channel 8 poll released last week showed that Laxalt held a 23-point lead over Brown, 50.1 percent to 27.1 percent.
Near the end of the debate Brown went on the attack against Laxalt over his role in the 2020 election lawsuits, claiming Laxalt wasn’t aggressive enough in his pursuit of those challenges to conduct of the election.
Laxalt called Brown’s characterization “comical,” and noted that he was the co-chair of former President Donald Trump’s Nevada campaign in 2020. Laxalt said that he “sounded every alarm imaginable” at that time.
But Laxalt also tried to downplay his role in those lawsuits despite being one of the public faces of the effort to overturn the 2020 election results in Nevada.
“I was not in charge of litigation. That was the Trump campaign. They hired lawyers, they filed the lawsuits,” Laxalt said.
Trump lost Nevada by more than 33,000 votes in the 2020 election. Nevada’s Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske has said that her office found no evidence of massive voter fraud in the election, even after spending dozens of hours investigating complaints filed with her office by the state Republican Party.
As the Trump campaign’s Nevada co-chair, Laxalt acted as a spokesman for several challenges to Nevada’s elections. And in a lawsuit filed in December 2020, he was one of the attorneys who represented Republicans alleging that their votes cast in the 2020 election were “diluted” based on the unproven claims of voter fraud. That lawsuit was later dismissed.
Brown also went after Laxalt over claims of noncitizens voting in the 2016 elections, claiming that Laxalt “did nothing” about it while he was attorney general.
The secretary of state’s office found evidence that three noncitizens illegally voted in that election in Clark County.
“He wouldn’t know this necessarily, but the reality is the secretary of state that’s empowered with investigating voter fraud in this state,” Laxalt responded.
Other policy issues
Laxalt and Brown offered similar answers when it came to many of the policy questions asked by the debate’s moderators, Newsmakers host Sam Shad and Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Victor Joecks.
Both said they would not support amnesty for undocumented immigrants in any circumstances, both believe the filibuster should remain in the U.S. Senate and both described themselves as “pro-life” when it comes to abortions.
But both candidates also did their fair share of side-stepping.
Brown did not directly answer when asked if he would support federal restrictions on abortion, calling it a “hypothetical question.” Laxalt was not asked the same question, but said that he believes that abortion laws are “better left to the states.”
Neither directly answered when asked if they would support Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as the leader of the Senate Republicans. Laxalt said he would “vote for the most conservative person that runs for leader of the Senate,” while Brown said he’d vote for “whoever is going to be a conservative champion.”
Both candidates attributed the high inflation rates to spending in Congress, but their answers differed as to how they would address the issue.
Brown said the Federal Reserve is not moving aggressively enough on interest rates, and said he’d like to see an increase of 2.5 points or more “even if it causes temporary pain.”
Brown also said he’d like to look at the federal departments that have state counterparts, such as the Department of Education and Department of Energy, and start to reduce the allocations that those federal agencies receive.
Laxalt didn’t say specifically where he’d look to cut, but said he thinks Congress should reduce regulations as a way of reducing the role of government.
“That’s the best thing we can do on spending,” Laxalt said.
Contact Colton Lochhead at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.