The Nevada primaries on June 14 did not offer election night surprises, but Republicans confirmed they will field a slate of radical nativists across the top of the ticket in November. Adam Laxalt (Senate), Joe Lombardo (Governor), April Becker (NV-03), and Sam Peters (NV-04) all ran on xenophobic fear-mongering in the primary and now hope to flip seats held by Democrats.
The GOP’s nativist political narrative is divorced from factual reality, reliant on a failed cruelty agenda, and premised on white nationalist conspiracy theories. The Nevada Republicans’ message isn’t different. Despite what these Republicans would have voters believe, the southern border is NOT “open,” migrants do NOT bring crime, and there is NOT an ongoing “invasion.” We have seen the deadly consequences of these lies, but we fully expect leading Nevada Republicans to continue to make xenophobic dog-whistling a cornerstone of their midterm message.
For this reason, it is worth a reminder of what kind of campaign these candidates have run thus far.
Adam Laxalt (Senate Candidate)
The New York Times aptly describes Adam Laxalt as a hard-right politician whose campaign “largely centered on turning out his base by stirring voter outrage over undocumented immigrants.” A scion of a western states political family, the former Nevada Attorney General is the grandson of a former Nevada senator and son of a former New Mexico senator.
Laxalt framed his campaign in the stark terms of “good versus evil,” claiming his supporters are the “good guys” with evil needing to be defeated. However, Laxalt has repeatedly embraced versions of racist “replacement theory” while on the campaign trail, according to audio obtained by Current – echoing the racist lies that have motivated several deadly terrorists over the last few years, including mass murderers in Buffalo, El Paso and Pittsburgh.
Laxlat has also campaigned on attacking immigrants who came to the U.S. over 15 years ago as kids and who have temporary protection under DACA, often referred to as Dreamers. His campaign ran $13,000 worth of radio ads touting a lawsuit he filed as Attorney General to try to block these limited protections. Laxalt has also run Facebook ads fear-mongering “mass amnesty” and ads that lie about “open borders.”
Laxalt also served as co-chairman of the 2020 Trump campaign in Nevada and led attacks to try to overturn the 2020 election results in Nevada. And he has continued to peddle lies about the 2020 election.
In 2018, Laxalt was the GOP nominee in the Governor’s face. He lost to Steve Sisolak. After the election, Jon Ralston from the Nevada Independent wrote,
The GOP triumvirate of Heller, Laxalt and lieutenant governor hopeful Michael Roberson used phony issues, especially sanctuary cities, to try to drive up the white vote in rural Nevada to win their races. It failed spectacularly.
Sure, they all won by landslides in the 15 counties between Las Vegas and Reno. But they clearly alienated urban voters and helped rev up the minority vote. Heckuva job, guys.
Their toxic brand of politics, so analogous to Trump’s, was repudiated by voters and all three should be consigned to the trash heap of Nevada political history.
As Nevada Attorney General, Laxalt joined Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s anti-immigrant lawsuits in an effort to use the courts to block policies that could have helped many families in his state. However, when immigrant advocates tried to meet with their Attorney General in June of 2016, he hid in his office.
Joe Lombardo (Gubernatorial Candidate)
Before his gubernatorial bid, Joe Lombardo was the Sheriff of Clark County, including Las Vegas and about 74 percent of the state’s population. He is challenging incumbent Democrat Governor Steve Sisolak. Unsurprisingly, this Republican former Sheriff made “law and order” dog-whistling the centerpiece of his campaign. Beyond the strategic racist attacks around “defund the police,” Lombardo touted his efforts at mass deportation as one of his main qualifications for governor.
In his introductory ad, Lombardo warns “dangerous criminals that crossed our border to terrorize our communities were deported.” In another ad, Lombardo slams his fellow Republicans as “keyboard cowboys,” admonishing them for not actually “deporting a single criminal…I have deported thousands.”
Better Nevada PAC also ran TV ads in support of Lombardo and praised him for allegedly deporting “over 10,000 people”, despite deportation actually being outside the powers of local law enforcement, which is under federal jurisdiction.
April Becker (NV-03 House Candidate)
Nevada’s 3rd U.S. Congressional District runs along the west side of Las Vegas, extending down along the border of California and Arizona. And April Becker wildly outspent her Republican primary opponents in this district and has the endorsement of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and third-racking House Republican Elise Stefanik. Becker has offered no criticism of Stefanik even as she has continued to echo the language of the terrorist who killed ten people in Buffalo. Nor has Becker criticized McCarthy as he has led his party with cowardly silence towards the growing white nationalism in their party.
For her part, Becker ran numerous ads that employed false, racist, and xenophobic tropes to boost her campaign. On her campaign website, Becker pushed several debunked lies about migrants. She claims Trump’s wall will “slow the unprecedented migration.” It won’t, nor are the numbers “unprecedented” but inflated because of policies that lead to recidivism and multiple counting. Becker also looks to make the non-existent link between fentanyl and migration – the facts do not support this widely used and inaccurate GOP talking point. Becker also falsely claims that “mass immigration drives down wages.” The long-held consensus by economists again disproves this lie.
Becker also touted an endorsement from the Gun Owners of America (GOA), a radical gun group that opposes any oversight or regulation on firearms, even attending the opening of one of their offices. The GOA was founded by the late Larry Pratt, a key figure in the armed far-right militia movement who took the stage at a neo-Nazi and Klan rally.
Sam Peters (NV-04 House Candidate)
Sam Peters won the competitive Republican primary in this sprawling district just north of Las Vegas, making the deadly, racist conspiracy theory about a migrant “invasion” a centerpiece of his campaign. Peters hopes to flip this toss-up battleground district from Democrat Rep. Steven Horsford.
Peters made repeated fundraising pitches throughout the primary, echoing the language of several white nationalist terrorists about an alleged “invasion” at the southern border; rhetoric that is inexorably tied to the vile lies around “replacement theory.” Peters sent a get-out-the-vote email just two weeks after the horrific terror attack in Buffalo, New York, warning of a “southern border invasion” in spite of the fact the gunman’s racist screed used similar language 10 separate times.
Peters also has aligned himself with Republicans and activists with deep connections to white nationalism and racist violence. He ran TV ads touting endorsements from Arizona Republicans Rep. Andy Biggs and Rep. Paul Gosar. Both Arizona Congressmen frequently peddle the racist lie about an “invasion” at the southern border and were key players in the events that led to the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Gosar also has an extensive public history of rubbing shoulders with white nationalists and violent racists.
Peters also promoted an endorsement from Jim Gilchrist, a far-right anti-immigrant paramilitary activist who has promoted the racist lie about an “invasion” for years. Gilchrist used to run unauthorized armed patrols of the border. Gilchrists’s “Minutemen” were influential on Shawna Forde, who would go on to murder a 9-year-old girl and her father as part of her racist activity along the border.
How Democrats Beat Anti-Immigrant Republicans In Nevada Before
The past does not predict the future, but Democrats should remember how they have won state-wide in Nevada against nativist opposition before and not forget those lessons. Chief among them is that of the late Harry Reid. In 2010, Reid showed Democrats the importance of investing in the Latino vote and not running away from immigration. As an analysis from Ashley Powers and P.J. Huffstutter in the Los Angeles Times following Reid’s 2010 reelection wrote:
“Immigration became a key undercurrent in Reid’s bid for a fifth term when Arizona’s tough measure to control illegal immigration was signed into law in April. Nevada’s nation-leading unemployment rate fed into some voters’ perception that undocumented migrants were draining social services and pilfering jobs. [Republican Sharron] Angle tried to capitalize on the sentiment with ads featuring thuggish-looking Latino men and the claim that Reid was ‘the best friend an illegal alien ever had.’”
After Reid died in November 2021, his former aide José Dante Parra wrote a tribute for the Nevada Independent that recounted how the then-Majority Leader decided to lean into the immigration issue:
One September morning as I pulled into the campaign office, I received a call from Serena Hoy, Reid’s immigration counsel. Reid had decided to bring the DREAM Act to a vote.
“Those who are not going to vote for me, are not going to vote for me. But to those who will, I might as well give them a reason to vote for me,” Reid told Serena.
Sharron Angle’s camp did not waste any time in cutting a TV commercial against Reid, slamming him for the DREAM Act announcement. Reid kept the course, though, and just as he promised, he brought up the bill for a vote. It came up short of the 60-vote supermajority needed to pass the Senate, but he used a legislative procedure to keep it alive and bring it back to a vote again later.
And as the cliché goes, the rest is history. Reid not only won his race, but won comfortably by five points. According to the polling firm Latino Decisions, Reid won more than 90 percent of the Hispanic vote….[H]e had given members of the community someone to vote for, rather than relying on votes against Angle.
In 2016, Catherine Cortez Masto did something similar to beat Republican Joe Heck in the race for Nevada Senate. After her win, The New York Times described her campaign as “focused on immigration overhaul,” writing that she “energized Latinos by railing against Mr. Trump’s plan to build a border wall, while trying to pin Mr. Trump’s most controversial views on her opponent.” She also met with families who worried about being deported, saying, “This is not what America is about.”
“We have a broken immigration system,” she told NPR. “And I say this because we are a country that has always opened our doors. That’s who we are.”
Her messaging worked: she beat Heck 47% to 44%.
As Democrats, including now Senator Cortez Masto herself, square off against another round of Republican nativists in Nevada, they should remember their well-deserved confidence on the issue. They shouldn’t run from – or to the right – on immigration issues when the inevitable anti-immigrant attacks come, but learning from their past, they should lean into values-based pro-immigrant messaging and build a multi-racial coalition of Latinos, Asian, immigrant, faith, labor and Democratic base voters.