Laxalt battens down controversial rhetoric, eyeing victory over Cortez Masto in Nevada Senate race

LAS VEGAS Looking to build on momentum versus Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and run out the clock in the final weeks before the midterm elections, a disciplined Adam Laxalt (R) is refusing to be baited into controversy under questioning about polarizing issues.

Would Laxalt support banning abortion nationally at 15 weeks of pregnancy, per a proposal from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), if he joins a new Republican Senate majority in January? “I will not vote for an abortion ban,” Laxalt told reporters Thursday.

What about the integrity of the Nov. 8 election? Laxalt previously echoed former President Donald Trump’s claims the 2020 election was rigged. Is he concerned about the upcoming Nevada vote?

“You’ll have to talk to the RNC on that. They’re in charge of election integrity,” Laxalt said, referring reporters to the Republican National Committee. It’s the smart play for the former Nevada attorney general. He has led in four of the last five public opinion polls of this key Senate race dating to late September and now tops Cortez Masto by an average of 1.2 percentage points as early voting gets underway here.

Supporters of Nevada GOP Senate nominee Adam Laxalt at a Latino outreach event in Las Vegas.

Graeme Jennings/Washington Examiner

Laxalt spoke to reporters Thursday evening during a brief news conference after, wooing a crowd of conservative Latinos during an appearance at an education reform summit on the grounds of a Christian church and parochial school in Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb. The candidate’s stubborn refusal to engage on politically charged topics was glaring.

Laxalt is inclined to speak his mind and has a history of making provocative statements, not unlike Trump, who endorsed him soon after he entered the Senate race last year. Laxalt’s newfound restraint reflects the view of his campaign that this toss-up race, against an incumbent Democrat who has more resources to spend, is poised to tip toward the Republicans by the time all votes are counted.

CORTEZ MASTO AND LAXALT BATTLING FOR NEVADA LATINO VOTE IN MAJORITY-MAKER SENATE RACE

That’s if Laxalt can stay focused on the issues voters care about most. In Nevada, as elsewhere, voters are fixated on skyrocketing inflation, high gas prices, and crime. “No matter what everybody does to try to distract from what’s going on in this race — people are very, very upset, and we’re hurting in this state,” he said, finishing his response to a reporter’s question about his position on abortion rights.

Cortez Masto, too, is revealing much about her understanding of the state of the Nevada Senate race by what she is choosing to talk about — and what she is choosing not to talk about.

And by the sound (and silence) of it, the Democratic incumbent recognizes her position is precarious, even if her campaign believes she is better positioned to win a second term than do Republicans. Many GOP strategists in Washington believe Nevada is their party’s surest path to 51 votes and the Senate majority.

The senator spoke with reporters Thursday afternoon during a brief news conference after a meet-and-greet with Latino business owners and supporters at a Mexican restaurant and bakery in a middle-class neighborhood on the east side of Las Vegas. And what did Cortez Masto discuss? She touted legislative accomplishments aimed at addressing the challenges voters are facing because of rising inflation, gas prices in Nevada hovering around $5 a gallon, and worries about public safety.

“Listen, the conversation we just had is not just about making sure businesses succeed [but] making sure our communities are safe, there’s good jobs, there’s good access to healthcare,” Cortez Masto said. “It’s those kitchen-table issues that matter. … When I go grocery shopping, or my mother does, I hear it.”

Nevada's Republican senatorial nominee, Adam Laxalt, speaks at a Latino outreach event in Las Vegas, Nevada, Thursday, October 20, 2022
Nevada GOP Senate nominee Adam Laxalt speaks at a Latino outreach event in Las Vegas.

Graeme Jennings/Washington Examiner

Cortez Masto criticized Laxalt for opposing the Inflation Reduction Act and measures in the law Democrats argue will work, over time, to reduce the cost of household goods, energy, and pharmaceuticals. But conspicuously, not once did she raise a favorite Democratic attack on Republicans this fall: the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the loss of federal protections for abortion rights, resulting from the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

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And, of course, not once did Cortez Masto mention President Joe Biden, whose job approval ratings in Nevada are lower than his already low national average of 42.4%. Only in an immediate, subsequent one-on-one interview, when pressed by NBC News reporter Garrett Haake, did Cortez Masto comment on abortion and Biden, although she did so with a telling twist.

“I can tell you what I hear from Nevadans — that’s my priority, and it’s not what you just asked me [about],” Cortez Masto said. “It is about everyday issues — kitchen-table issues.”

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