Nevada’s Senate primary is setting up what could be one of the priciest general matchups this fall

Alma L. Figueroa

The primary setting up one of the priciest Senate races this fall takes place Tuesday in Nevada. South Carolina GOP Sen. Tim Scott isn’t facing much competition in his primary, but he’s already raised close to $40 million.Two South Carolina GOP House members face Trump-backed challenges.

Four states are holding primary elections on Tuesday: Nevada, South Carolina, Maine and North Dakota. From GOP primaries in battleground states to another test for a House Republican incumbent who voted for impeachment, here’s a preview of the races to watch.

South Texas also has a special election for a congressional seat – but only to fill the seat until January 2023.

Nevada Senate

Nevada’s Senate and gubernatorial GOP primaries on Tuesday will showcase Trump-endorsed candidates, political newcomers, and former statewide office holders looking to challenge Democratic incumbents in November’s general election.

The Senate race in November is shaping up to be one of the costliest campaigns in the country and could determine the balance in an evenly divided Senate.

Incumbent  Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, isn’t facing a competitive challenger on Tuesday, but she has raised nearly $20 million in the last year and goes into primary day with more than $9 million cash on hand.

Republican Adam Laxalt, who succeeded Cortez Masto as the state’s attorney general from 2015 to 2019, has been leading in the polls among GOP challengers vying to be the Republican nominee for Senate. Laxalt ran a failed gubernatorial campaign in 2018, but he has the backing of former President Donald Trump. Laxalt has raised nearly $6 million and has more than $2 million cash on hand.

He also has the support of national GOP figures like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. In the final days before the primary, Laxalt campaigned with Donald Trump Jr., Trump ally Richard Grenell and former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker.

Ben Smith (left) and Adam Laxalt are running for the Republican nomination for Senate in Nevada.  / Credit: David Calvert/Getty Images, David Becker/Getty Images

Ben Smith (left) and Adam Laxalt are running for the Republican nomination for Senate in Nevada. / Credit: David Calvert/Getty Images, David Becker/Getty Images

Laxalt served as Trump’s Nevada campaign co-chair in 2020. After the 2020 election, he falsely claimed thousands of illegal ballots had been cast in the state. He provided no proof, and a subsequent investigation from the secretary of state’s office found no evidence of widespread voter fraud. But Laxalt has continued to campaign on the false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

His popularity with Trump supporters has also helped him maintain a lead in the polls. A recent poll from the Nevada Independent showed Laxalt leading political newcomer Sam Brown by 14 points. However, Brown, a retired Army captain, has been closing the gap after trailing Laxalt by nearly 40 points in March and 23 points in early May.

Sources familiar with Brown’s campaign say the race is closer than it may appear. “Our own internal tracking shows it to be a dead heat,” a senior adviser to Brown’s campaign said. “I think we’re looking at another situation where the polls aren’t necessarily reflective of the sentiment on the ground.” The senior adviser suggested the campaign’s heavy advertising spending is now paying off and could help close the gap on primary day.

Brown has spent the majority of the $4 million he has raised during his campaign on advertising to raise his name ID. Most of the money has come from over 40,000 individual donors, but he only has a little over $350,000 cash on hand. While Brown has closed the gap in the polls, defeating Laxalt on Tuesday night would be considered a huge upset.

Nevada governor

While the Nevada GOP Senate primary is essentially a two-man race, the gubernatorial primary features a historically crowded field of more than a dozen candidates vying to take out incumbent Democrat Gov. Steve Sisolak.

Only the top five polling candidates qualified for the May 25 primary debate, where the frontrunner, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo declared that “for all practical purposes, this primary is over.”

Lombardo leads former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, boxer and lawyer Joey Gilbert, and North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee in the polls. Lee is a former Democrat turned Republican. Lombardo has Trump’s endorsement and on primary day, he’ll have the most cash on hand. Lombardo is also longtime friends with Gov. Steve Sisolak. He donated to Sisolak’s campaign in 2018 and sat on the transition committee.

Lombardo’s candidacy gives some longtime Republican operatives in Nevada hope that the GOP can take back the governor’s seat after Sisolak became the first Democrat to win in more than 20 years. Lombardo’s high name ID, experience winning a statewide campaign, and ties to Clark County could help him take down Sisolak.

From left, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, Joey Gilbert, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, former U.S. senator Dean Heller and Guy Nohra stand before a Republican primary debate for Nevada governor Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Las Vegas. / Credit: John Locher / AP

From left, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, Joey Gilbert, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, former U.S. senator Dean Heller and Guy Nohra stand before a Republican primary debate for Nevada governor Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Las Vegas. / Credit: John Locher / AP

“If a Republican wins Clark County, it would be a blowout,” a Republican operative in Nevada said. Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, accounts for nearly 70% of the state’s population.

Additionally, Democrats have run up the margins in Clark County so high in recent elections that Republicans have almost no shot at winning the state’s biggest county. “If you can lose it by less than 10 points, you’re probably going to win statewide and that’s kind of the goal,” the GOP operative explained.

Recent polls show Lombardo has a commanding lead with 35% support over Gilbert’s 15%. More than 100,000 Nevadans have already voted, taking advantage of the early voting period that ran between May 28 and June 10.

According to data from the Nevada secretary of state’s office, more than 71,000 chose to vote by mail in the first week of early voting while 40,000 voted in person. Not surprisingly, Republican voters chose to vote in person at a higher rate than Democrats. According to the state’s data, during the first week of early voting, 57% of Republicans voted in person, compared to 34% of Democrats.

Nevada secretary of state

Nevada Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, who has been criticized by Trump supporters for not overturning the 2020 election results, is term-limited. She was censured by the Nevada GOP in April 2021 for, as she put it, refusing to “put my thumb on the scale of democracy.”

There is a crowded Republican primary to be the party’s nominee in November, including some candidates who have spread false claims or raised questions about the 2020 election. There has been no credible evidence of widespread fraud that could have changed Nevada’s results.

“While the NVGOP raises policy concerns about the integrity of mail-in voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day voter registration, these concerns do not amount to evidentiary support for the contention that the 2020 general election was plagued by widespread voter fraud,” Cegavske said in a letter to the Nevada GOP in April 2021, in response to allegations of fraud.

Former state lawmaker Jim Marchant, one of the Republicans running in the primary, told The Wall Street Journal last year that he didn’t know whether President Biden won the state in 2020 and “would not have certified” the election.

Marchant also told The Guardian that he would be open to sending an alternate slate of electors to Congress in 2024. He also falsely claimed that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him and Trump. Marchant lost to Rep. Steven Horsford and unsuccessfully challenged the results.

Marchant and former Clark County District Court Judge Richard Scotti, another candidate in the race, have said they would push to decertify Dominion voting machines, which are used by nearly all of Nevada’s counties. The machines were at the center of some election conspiracies and the company has filed lawsuits against some high-profile figures who spread those claims.

Kris Dahir, a Sparks city councilman, has distinguished himself from some of his opponents by not embracing the claims of widespread fraud during the 2020 election. Like other candidates, he supports voter ID laws and wants to add restrictions about who can return absentee ballots for someone.

“I’ve looked through it all, I don’t see the mass fraud they speak of,” Dahir told the Nevada Independent. “I do see all the questions and things that should not have been put in place because it causes confusion. But I have not seen mass voter fraud.”

Dahir also told the Nevada Globe that “Biden is the rightfully elected President.”

Jesse Haw, a former state senator, told the Nevada Independent that the 2020 election “had a lot of shenanigans and potential fraud” when asked if he thought the election was legitimate. Gerard Ramalho, a former television news anchor, told the news outlet that “our trust was stolen” by a “single-party-rule Legislature” during the 2020 election.

Republican Socorro Keenan in a debate compared American voting systems to “third-world country voting…where they know how to cheat.” She also told the Las Vegas Sun that she doesn’t think that the 2020 election in Nevada was free and fair.

The winner is expected to face Democratic candidate Cisco Aguilar, an attorney.

Maine governor

Democratic Governor Janet Mills is up for reelection and is running unopposed in her primary. She is cruising toward a matchup against former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who served from 2011-2019 and is also running unopposed.

North Dakota Senate

Republican Sen. John Hoeven is running with Trump’s endorsement. In April, Hoeven won the North Dakota GOP’s endorsement for a third term, defeating state Rep. Rick Becker, who was running to Hoeven’s right. Becker said he wouldn’t run for the seat without the party’s endorsement.

Hoeven does have one candidate in the primary, oil worker Riley Kuntz. Hoeven is expected to easily win that race and be reelected in November.

South Carolina Senate

Republican Sen. Tim Scott isn’t facing a competitive primary and likely won’t have a difficult time in the general election, but he’s raising money like an endangered incumbent.

Scott has raised $39.5 million from individual contributions this cycle, more than any other Republican up for reelection in 2022 and second only to Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock’s $46.3 million in individual contributions, based on the most recent FEC data. Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly has raised similar amounts of money, but has not had to report his fundraising as recently as Scott or Warnock.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., speaks during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 30, 2021. / Credit: Andrew Harnik / AP

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., speaks during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 30, 2021. / Credit: Andrew Harnik / AP

It remains to be seen what Scott will do with any money he has leftover from his 2022 race, but he was in Iowa for a fundraiser last week, one of several trips he has made to Iowa and other early primary states.

The Democrats competing to challenge Scott are author Catherine Fleming Bruce, veteran Angela Geter and state Rep. Krystle Matthews.

South Carolina governor

Former Democratic Congressman Joe Cunningham and State Sen. Mia McLeod are the top two Democratic candidates for South Carolina governor. Cunningham flipped South Carolina’s 1st District from red to blue in 2018, but lost to Republican Nancy Mace in 2020.

Cunningham has dialed into his bipartisan credentials during his campaign, pointing to his win in 2018 as proof he can have a fighting chance in a state that Trump won by 12 points. If elected, McLeod would be the first Black woman governor in South Carolina history.

Whichever candidate prevails will likely face Republican Gov. Henry McMaster. McMaster was endorsed by Trump in March 2021 and is expected to defeat primary challenger Harrison Musselwhite, whose campaign site notes that his friends call him “Trucker Bob.”

House races

Republican incumbents Tom Rice and Nancy Mace are both facing Trump-backed challengers on Tuesday. For Rice, the effort to dethrone him has been in place since he voted in January of 2021 to impeach Trump due to the attacks on the U.S. Capitol.

After endorsing another candidate in right-wing personality Graham Allen, Trump switched gears and backed State Representative Russell Fry. Allen dropped out of the race and also backed Fry, whose state house district overlaps with the 7th Congressional District.

Fry has made Rice’s impeachment vote a core part of his campaign. His first TV ad of the campaign compared Rice as a villain for voting to impeach Trump. “Let’s kick another villain out of D.C. and vote for President Trump’s choice,” the ad says.

He has also made some of the more staple arguments against an incumbent: that Rice hasn’t been responsive to the district and that Rice looked to personally increase his wealth during his time in Congress and the pandemic.

Rice has vehemently defended his impeachment vote as the right choice, while also pointing out he did vote with Trump more than 90% of the time during his term. He holds a seat on the influential Ways & Means committee, and was a key player in crafting Trump’s signature tax cuts in the House.

He is one of the six House Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment and is still running for re-election. “I don’t know if the President’s speech last Wednesday morning amounted to incitement of a riot, but any reasonable person could see the potential for violence,” Rice wrote in his statement after his impeachment vote.

Rice has been backed by former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, who came to the district to campaign for him in May and told CBS13 Rice would be a “very influential” member for the district if Republicans take back the House, given his role on Ways & Means, the tax-writing committee.

Trump held a rally in Rice’s district in March and said Rice was “an atrocious RINO” (Republican in name only) and pointed out that the state Republican party had censured him.

Five other Republicans are running in this primary which could hold both Rice and Fry under the 50% mark to avoid a runoff. Internal polls for Rice and Fry both show neither candidate reaches a majority of the vote.

Mace, a freshman Republican that flipped her seat from Democratic control in 2020, is facing off against former State Representative Katie Arrington, who was the 2018 GOP nominee for this district that lost to Cunningham.

Mace had voted to certify Mr. Biden’s win in the 2020 election and to hold Trump-ally Steven Bannon in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with the January 6 select committee. She was also initially outspoken against Trump about the January 6 attacks in the immediate aftermath.

“Nancy fights Republicans all the time and is not at all nice about it.  Frankly, she is despised by almost everyone, and who needs that in Congress, or in the Republican Party?” Trump said in a statement on Sunday.

She has the backing of former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a potential 2024 presidential candidate that appeared in an ad for her. Mace has outraised Arrington nearly 4-to-1 throughout the campaign, bringing in more than $4 million dollars according to the latest campaign finance report.

Arrington’s relationship with Trump stems from his 2018 endorsement of her and her work at the Department of Defense during the pandemic. She has gone after Mace for not voting to object to the electoral college results as well as for being too moderate, particularly on issues like legalizing marijuana.

Mace and her campaign have highlighted how Arrington lost the historically Republican seat in 2018 against Cunningham. They are also tying her vote as a state representative to raise the gas tax in 2017 to Mr. Biden and the rise in gas prices.

During a tele-rally for Arrington, Trump told supporters to give him “two presents” for his birthday on Tuesday, June 14.

“Give me a really nice birthday present please. Two birthday presidents,” he said.

A special election in Texas’ 34th District to fill Democrat Filemon Vela’s seat could give House Republicans a symbolic win ahead of this November. Two Republicans and two Democrats are running in the nonpartisan primary, which would go into a runoff if no candidate clears 50%.

Vela resigned in March, so Tuesday’s race will be to fill the remainder of his term. The candidates for the general election in November are already set: Republican Mayra Flores and Democratic Congressman Vicente Gonzalez.

Flores, the wife of a border patrol agent, has been backed by many national Republicans and has benefitted from outside money flowing into this south Texas district. Over $1 million has been spent by Flores and allies on TV.

The House Majority PAC, backed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began running ads against Flores last week. Dan Sanchez, a lawyer, is the leading Democrat in the race.

The district will lean more Democratic in November’s elections, when the newly redistricted version of the state map is used. But Flores is hoping the boost to her campaign and the ongoing effort by Republicans to court Latino voters in south Texas, is enough to give Democrats an electoral scare ahead of November.

Another House primary to watch is in Nevada, where Democratic incumbent Congresswoman Dina Titus is facing a challenger to the left of her in progressive Amy Vilela. She was backed by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont last week. Also in Nevada, national Republican groups have gotten involved to support Congressman Mark Amodei in his primary. Amodei is being challenged by Danny Tarkanian, a Douglas County Commissioner that has had unsuccessful runs for Congress in the past decade.

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