Top GOP Donor Urges Donald Trump To Walk Back Nevada Endorsement

A major GOP donor from Nevada is urging former President Donald Trump to switch his endorsement in the state’s Republican Senate primary, underscoring the break between Trump and state-level Republicans in some 2022 battlegrounds.

Don Ahern, a tycoon in the rental equipment sector, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he hopes Trump will end up backing Army veteran Sam Brown over former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the presumed front-runner and D.C. establishment favorite.

“I love Donald Trump and I believe once he understands the strength of Sam Brown and the weakness of Adam Laxalt, I would hope that he would change his support there,” Ahern, a prominent Trump supporter and GOP donor, told the paper last week.

Ahern has emerged as a top Nevada GOP player following businessman Sheldon Adelson’s death earlier this year and sexual misconduct allegations leveled against casino mogul Steve Wynn, who has kept a low profile since stepping down from his company in 2018.

His remarks show how an endorsement from Trump, whose post-presidency kingmaker status in GOP contests is still unsettled, isn’t guaranteed to clear a primary field or even deter other Trump-aligned GOP challengers.

That’s especially true in Nevada, a battleground that’s appearing more favorable to Republicans and where the party believes it has a decent shot at ousting Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto for control of the upper chamber in next year’s elections. Republicans need just one seat to take back the majority.

Along with New Hampshire — where Gov. Chris Sununu is a possible recruit on the GOP side to challenge Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan — Nevada is a top target for Republicans in the midterms, along with states like Arizona and Georgia that Biden wrested from Trump in 2020.

Trump has endorsed candidates in Pennsylvania and Georgia, and like Laxalt in Nevada, his picks are early front-runners. But each comes with baggage that some Republicans fear might doom their prospects for retaking the Senate: Army veteran Sean Parnell in Pennsylvania and former NFL star Herschel Walker in Georgia both face domestic abuse allegations.

In Arizona, Trump is at odds with the early favorite to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, Attorney General Mark Brnovich, whom he clashed with over the state’s controversial election audit.

Former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt is Trump’s pick for Senate in Nevada.

Ronda Churchhill/AFP via Getty Images

A former statewide officeholder and grandson of the late Nevada governor and senator Paul Laxalt, Adam Laxalt was viewed as a top-tier recruit when he entered the race in mid-August, quickly locking down support from the former president and from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Laxalt’s father is also late New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici.

But Republicans also worry that Laxalt, who lost the governor’s race in 2018, could turn off moderate and independent voters in a general election. In his launch video, Laxalt framed the race as a battle against the “radical left” and “woke corporations,” buzzwords that amp up the right.

“I hear this every day — that D.C. Republicans like Adam Laxalt better than Nevada Republicans like Adam Laxalt,” one longtime Nevada GOP strategist said.

After the 2020 election, Laxalt emerged as a leading GOP voice promoting bogus election fraud conspiracy theories embraced by Trump, and he has already hinted that he might challenge the election outcome in 2022. In his endorsement, Trump said Laxalt, his campaign co-chair in the state, “fought valiantly against the Election Fraud, which took place in Nevada.” (There is no evidence of fraud having tainted the 2020 election in Nevada.)

Earlier this month, Laxalt was in the awkward position of being called as a prosecution witness in the federal corruption trial of Lev Parnas, a business associate in Trump’s orbit convicted in the same court proceedings of funneling money from a Russian national into U.S. political campaigns. Laxalt told prosecutors he solicited money from Parnas for his gubernatorial campaign, before becoming suspicious and returning the money. Democrats seized on the episode to try and connect Laxalt to corruption.

“Laxalt is Trump’s main lackey in Nevada. He led efforts to overturn the election, continues to spread the Big Lie and supports Trump’s job-killing policies,” Andy Orellana, a spokesperson for Nevada Democratic Victory, said in a statement.

Adam Laxalt is pitted against retired Army Capt. Sam Brown, who sustained burns over much of his body in an IED explosion.

Lee Craker/U.S. Department of Defense

Despite the crowded field, Ahern’s pick, retired Army Capt. Sam Brown, has emerged as his main opponent. A newcomer to Nevada politics, Brown garnered attention for a strong opening fundraising haul that nearly rivaled Laxalt’s. His story is also notable: Brown received a purple heart after an IED explosion during a deployment in Afghanistan left him with third-degree burns over 30% of his body. He lost a race for the Texas House before moving to Nevada.

Republicans in Ahern’s circle say Brown has a better shot against Cortez Masto in a general election matchup. They also note that Ahern soured on Laxalt well before this race — back in 2018, when Laxalt supported a candidate for lieutenant governor who backed a commercial tax that Ahern was strongly against.

“The establishment believes that because Laxalt can raise a boatload of money and he’s got tremendous D.C. connections … he has to be considered the front-runner,” said Chuck Muth, a GOP activist who is advising Ahern on a state-level candidate PAC. “[Brown] was a big question mark as a first-time candidate. But his third-quarter posting, raising over a million dollars — as a complete unknown, never run before — it grabbed a lot of people’s attention. We’ll see whether he can turn it into a primary win next year.”

Despite pressure from his Nevada ally, Trump didn’t shy away from supporting Laxalt in a statement to the Review-Journal.

“I’ve known Adam Laxalt for a long time and support him 100%,” Trump said.

Also running on the GOP side are pageant winner Sharelle Mendenhall and health care executive William Hockstedler.

Cortez Masto made history in 2016 as the first Latina elected to the Senate, and she hails from a state where recent population growth has been fueled by Latino and nonwhite populations.

Biden won Nevada by about 2 percentage points in 2020, the same margin as both Hillary Clinton and Cortez Masto four years earlier. Biden also won a majority of Latino voters, but exit polling showed that Trump was able to peel away some Latino support from Democrats, leaving Republicans with an opening but without a consensus candidate.

“That’s what a lot of people in Nevada are really focusing on in both Senate race and gubernatorial race,” Muth said. “Not necessarily who the most conservative candidate is, but which candidate has the best chance to win.”

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