Nevada’s U.S. Senate race will play a significant role in determining which party controls the upper house of Congress heading into the second half of President Joe Biden’s first term, making it one of the most-watched races in the country over the next seven months.
But before that happens, there are the primary races in which eight Republicans are vying for the seat held by first-term Democrat Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who is not expected to face any serious challenge in her own primary.
Adam 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 he has the backing of the Republican Party’s top brass, including former President Donald Trump. But retired U.S. Army veteran Sam Brown, a political newcomer to Nevada, has put together a stronger campaign than many expected at the onset.
Laxalt has raised the most money in the race and had the most campaign cash going forward as of March 31, the end of the latest campaign finance reporting period.
Brown has posted strong fundraising numbers as well, raising more than $1 million in three consecutive quarters, and he has actually outspent Laxalt by about $400,000, according to campaign finance records filed with the Federal Election Commission.
In terms of policy positions, Laxalt and Brown hold similar stances on several issues.
In interviews with the Review-Journal, both said that the federal government needs to stop spending to curb inflation, that the private sector should be addressing climate change through innovation, and that they would not support the federal government canceling student loan debt.
Laxalt should be a familiar name to Nevada voters. He’s the grandson of former Nevada governor and senator Paul Laxalt, and son of former New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici.
Adam Laxalt served one term as the Nevada attorney general before running unsuccessfully for governor in 2018.
Laxalt said he is running for U.S. Senate this year because “leftist leadership is taking us dramatically in the wrong direction,” noting rising inflation, gas prices and increasing crime rates.
“I’m running for U.S. Senate to be part of saving our country and giving Nevada representation,” he said.
He has received much of the Republican establishment’s support in his senatorial bid, most notably Trump’s endorsement and campaign rallies in the state with other big-name Republicans such as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
On the economy, Laxalt said the federal government needs to limit spending if it’s going to address rising costs.
“They need to stop spending and stop printing money. That’s what’s caused inflation,” Laxalt said.
Asked about what areas of spending the federal government should look to cut, Laxalt said he didn’t have any specifics at the time.
Asked about potential federal legislation on abortion rights, Laxalt said that he is “a supporter of life, as my record is clear, but I’m not going to give you any hypotheticals.”
Laxalt has been one of the most vocal promoters of debunked claims of widespread voter fraud in Nevada after the 2020 election.
Serving as the Trump campaign’s co-chair in Nevada, Laxalt cast doubt on election security in the state and criticized Democrats for passing a new election law on a party-line vote amid the pandemic.
Last August, he told a news radio host that he would look at pre-emptively filing lawsuits to challenge the state’s election systems ahead of the 2022 elections.
Asked if he still plans to file such lawsuits before the November general election, Laxalt refused to answer during the interview.
His campaign sent a follow-up statement via email, in which Laxalt said that he is “certainly looking into opportunities to improve the integrity of our ballot and stop voter fraud. This includes legal action if needed.”
Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske has said that her office found no evidence of widespread fraud in Nevada, even after an extensive investigation of complaints filed by Republicans.
Brown is a political newcomer to the state, moving to Reno from Texas in 2018 after he took job at an Amazon fulfillment center while he got his business helping veterans process pharmacy claims off the ground.
Brown said he is running “because Nevadans, especially working-class Nevadans, need a champion in D.C.”
In an uphill campaign, Brown has tried to frame himself as the grassroots alternative to Laxalt, and he pointed to the decision from the Nevada Republican Party Central Committee to endorse him and not Laxalt at the party’s April convention.
“The political class has left so many Americans and Nevadans behind. They don’t represent, frankly, the issues and things that we need them to,” Brown said in an interview.
Brown wants the federal government to reduce spending and said he’d look to trim that in places where there are redundancies between the federal and state levels, like the U.S. Department of Education.
“I’m not advocating that we terminate that at a federal level,” Brown said. “But shrink the size and scope of those departments and agencies and return more of the decision making and administration back to the states.”
Brown said that the U.S. becoming more energy independent will also help reduce costs, and he supports more domestic oil drilling, wants to invest in more American oil refineries, and believes the Keystone XL pipeline that the Biden administration revoked should be brought online.
Brown has said that he doesn’t want to focus on the 2020 election, but rather on election integrity issues moving forward, and supports laws implementing voter ID requirements.
Brown said he’s “always been pro-life” and that he “would encourage things that protect life,” but he did not directly answer when asked if he would support legislation in Congress that would impose federal restrictions on abortions.
William ‘Bill’ Hockstedler
William Hockstedler said that the nation’s economy “should always be our No. 1 priority,” and he wants to bring more manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., even if that means the costs of those goods might go up slightly.
“I’d rather pay a few extra pennies for something and know that I’m paying for good jobs for Nevadans and good jobs for Americans,” he said in an interview.
Hockstedler, a 59-year-old health care executive and military veteran who lives in Pahrump, differs from the other Republicans running when it comes to his thoughts on the 2020 election, bristling at the unfounded claims of widespread fraud that many in the party have promoted.
“This (2020) election was probably the most secure election we’ve ever had,” Hockstedler said.
Hockstedler is a “believer in green energies,” but he said the transition to more clean energy needs to balance the needs of the economy, as well.
He said he is pro-life and that he would not vote “to allow abortions to run rampant in the country” but believes there should be exceptions for rape, incest and medical necessity.
Sharelle Mendenhall, a 37-year-old business owner and former pageant winner, said she is hoping to “inspire the next generation so people can believe in leadership again.”
Mendenhall said she wants to leverage money that is available at the federal level to help support small businesses.
She said making the U.S. energy independent is a major key to addressing inflation and that the country needs to continue utilizing fossil fuels like natural gas to do that. But she noted that “ethanol is not the answer. It’s burning too hot.”
“Being energy independent is vital. That impacts our supply chain. It impacts everything,” she said.
She supports implementing voter ID requirements across the country and said she believes that the federal government could offer a $3.9 billion stipend to pay for everyone to have an ID.
“That way we can stop this argument,” she said.
William ‘Byron’ Conrad
William Conrad, a 64-year-old retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel is a political newcomer in Nevada as well, but not new to the world of politics by any means.
Conrad, a former city councilman in Modesto, California, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in California in 1996, said the biggest issue is leadership in the Republican party, and he wants Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell removed as the Senate’s Republican leader.
He said the Senate needs to pass “historic tax cuts” in order to address inflation and he believes that with all mail-in ballot elections, “you open yourself up to corruption.”
Paul Rodriguez, a 49-year-old Air Force veteran and small-business owner from Las Vegas, said his message is simple.
“I want people to have more rights and more freedom to make decisions for themselves,” he said.
Rodriguez said inflation and the economy are the biggest issues facing Nevada.
To address it, he said the federal government must “cut taxes, cut government spending, cut regulations, especially against small businesses, and control the flow of printing money.”
Carlo Poliak, 81, is a perennial candidate who has run in numerous elections, including senatorial primaries, over the years.
Poliak said he wants to see the eligibility age for Social Security reduced.
Tyler Perkins also filed as a Republican but did not agree to an interview before this story was published.
Cortez Masto said in an interview that she wants to work on proposals to lower prescription drug costs for Nevadans and bring back manufacturing jobs to the U.S. if re-elected.
Cortez Masto, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s handpicked successor in the Senate, said she wants to continue building upon what she’s done during his first term and highlighted her support for the Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act and bipartisan infrastructure spending bill, which include funding for the expansion of broadband internet access in Nevada, wildfire prevention and suppression and for a massive water recycling project in California that would allow Nevada to receive more water from Lake Mead.
She said she will push to make sure that small businesses have access to the capital they need going forward as the economy continues to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic and said working with the various chambers of commerce across the state is key.
“Small businesses in our community are the backbone of our economy in the state of Nevada,” she said.
Immigration advocates have criticized Cortez Masto recently for her opposition to the Biden administration’s decision to end a pandemic-related policy that allows border authorities to turn asylum-seekers away because of the COVID-19 pandemic, commonly called Title 42.
Cortez Masto said that, while Title 42 “is not good policy,” it would be irresponsible to rescind it, and she expressed worry that doing so would lead to a surge at the border in the summer months.
“As we move forward, we have to be smart with how we address these needs. We cannot rescind it without a detailed plan,” she said.
Corey Reid, a Las Vegas bartender, said he was spurred to run in part because the Senate doesn’t know “what people like me and my friends are going through, yet they’re the ones making the decisions for us and making it hard for us.”
“You cannot represent an average American if you are not an average American,” he said.
Reid said he supports green energy but thinks Democrats are “rushing there too quickly” and that the U.S. should make sure it has enough gas and coal to meet energy demands moving forward.
Stephanie Kasheta and Allen Reinhart did not agree to interviews before this story was published.