Columns

For the Thousandth Time, Can We Please Leave the Nominating to the Voters?

(AP Photo/Scott Sonner)

In Nevada and Beyond, Candidates Must Make Their Own Way

Stories are starting to appear in national news outlets by intrepid political reporters that Republican Party elites in Washington may be lining up behind failed 2018 gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt—a perfectly decent guy but a politically feckless scion of some storied GOP names in Nevada and beyond—to take on the Silver State’s freshman Senator Catherine Cortez Masto in 2022.

Tale as old as time, yeah? Wouldn’t it be nice, for once, if the kingmakers in D.C. would butt out and stand by as Republican voters in states like Nevada decide who it is they would like see bear their standard? Were they to do so in this case (and they won’t) they would find that many Nevada Republicans see the recent two-time statewide electoral loser as “politically damaged goods.” And for some pretty good reasons.

In 2018, Nevada Republicans fielded a Dean Heller-Adam Laxalt ticket, with Heller running for Senate re-election and Laxalt running for governor. They both lost, badly, underperforming most of their statewide GOP counterparts.

Apparently, bigshots believe that the result will somehow be different if Laxalt performs a political do-si-do this next time around by running for U.S. Senate while Heller runs for governor. Some might think a candidate swap at the top  of a previously failed ticket clever – most, I’m guessing, would find it delusional.

It’s a fair question for Nevada’s Republican voters and donors to ask: given his recent track record, why would they choose Adam Laxalt to spearhead their efforts to flip their pivotal U.S. Senate seat? A seat at which they might well only have this one legitimate shot?

Some suggest the Laxalt recruitment rumors are just wishful thinking – fanned in part by Democrats. Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston took to Twitter to make it clear that in fact, Democrats are the ones rooting for Laxalt to be the GOP Senate nominee, while Nevada Republicans would prefer someone else. Ralston tweeted: “[Republicans] here get that if Laxalt is the nominee, it makes it less likely GOP can win. [Democrats] want him.”

The reason Democrats might want Laxalt makes sense. In Laxalt’s 2014 run for attorney general, opposition researchers dug up a private law firm’s performance reviews that referred to then-associate attorney Adam Laxalt as a “train wreck.” Democrats have used that attack mercilessly to pummel Laxalt in ads and in the press. Unfair? Maybe, but trainwreck does come close to describing the Nevada GOP’s electoral fortunes with Laxalt at the top of the GOP effort in the last two election cycles. Just saying.

In 2018, Laxalt’s failed campaign for governor was a bungled opportunity of epic proportion. Laxalt had every advantage needed to win that campaign. He easily emerged from a sleepy GOP primary with plenty of money in the bank and facing a far-left progressive Democratic nominee in Steve Sisolak who had just endured a brutal primary and was called “financially exhausted.” State Republican strategists were expressing confidence, with one telling the Review-Journal: “I think it’s Adam Laxalt’s race to lose.”

And yet, lose he did. Despite these early advantages and early polling leads, Laxalt managed to engineer a disastrous come-from-ahead loss to Sisolak, leaving Republican leaders shaking their heads and legislatively impotent in Carson City. Even harder to fathom was Laxalt’s underperformance in Nevada’s rural counties, typically reliable GOP strongholds.

Adam Laxalt fared no better when he was then tapped to chair Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign in Nevada. The results were familiar: a pivotal loss, with Joe Biden breaking the 50% barrier in Nevada that Hillary Clinton couldn’t.

Laxalt’s past candidacies have been helped along by his ability to leverage his family name to avoid a real primary in either of his prior campaigns. This time, however, Laxalt’s recent losses mean he is unlikely to get a free pass in the primary if he runs. Reno-based veteran Sam Brown has already had a spirited entry into the race. Badly injured while fighting for his country in Afghanistan, Brown is a new breed of non-establishment candidate who has earned a right to be taken seriously. Further, Nevada insiders say he has been winning over some of Nevada’s major donors and fundraising talent from Trump’s national finance team.

It’s understandable that notoriously lazy and risk-averse national Republicans would seek a candidate who provides the kind of instant name ID and pedigree of Adam Laxalt. Fine, and if Nevada rank-and-file GOPers end up feeling the same and showing it at the ballot box, then great. Whomever emerges from the Nevada GOP primary will need to have proven themselves if they hope to defeat a savvy incumbent in Cortez

Masto with an incumbent president and Nevada’s politically murderous Harry Reid machine at her disposal to help Democrats keep Nevada’s Senate seat blue. None one should be anointed in Nevada or anywhere else. Republicans have far too much to lose to screw around in 2022.