Top battleground Senate race heats up as party-backed Republican faces onslaught from former Trump official

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What is expected to be one of this year's most closely watched Senate races has morphed into a one-sided slugfest for the Republican nomination as a well-funded former Trump official continues his relentless onslaught against the national party-backed candidate.

Dr. Jeffrey Gunter, who served as former President Trump's ambassador to Iceland, made waves in Nevada last month when he announced a multimillion-dollar ramp up of his Senate campaign, causing heartburn for national Republicans who had already thrown their support behind former U.S. Army Captain Sam Brown.

Gunter touts himself as "the MAGA guy" and "110% pro-Donald Trump" and is making a potential endorsement from the former president a central factor in his effort to overtake Brown, whom he calls "Scam Brown," and accuses of being a "Never Trumper."


Jeff Gunter, Sam Brown
Former U.S. Ambassador to Iceland Jeff Gunter and former U.S. Army officer Sam Brown.

"Nevada voters deserve truthful, honest, straightforward politicians. … I'm the MAGA guy. I'm 110% pro-Donald Trump. That's who I am," Gunter told Fox News Digital in an interview.

"The reality is Sam Brown, Scam Brown, whatever you want to call him … he's a Mitch guy. He's a Nikki guy. That's who he's beholden to. I'm only beholden to one group, and that's the Nevada voters," he said, referencing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Republicans who have often broken with Trump on various issues.



Brown, however, avoided directly engaging with Gunter while speaking with Fox News Digital over the weekend and has attempted to keep his focus on incumbent Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen, as well as President Biden.

"Look, my record has been clear. I've been on the campaign trail effectively for the last three years," Brown said, alluding to his unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for Senate against Adam Laxalt in 2022.

"I have been consistent. My issues have never changed. I am a pro-America First candidate, and I am extremely conservative. What other candidates do is just an indication of how desperate people are," he added, not mentioning Gunter by name.

Former US president and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower
Former President Trump, a Republican presidential candidate, leaves Trump Tower to attend his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs in New York April 22, 2024.

Brown described his campaign as an "indictment" against Rosen and Biden, saying their policies had not served Nevadans well, and, in contrast to Gunter's argument that he is a "Never Trumper," defended the former president concerning his ongoing trial in New York City.

"It seems to be motivating people to get engaged, to voice their concerns, and, frankly, to see that Trump is taking heat on their behalf," he said. "A lot of this didn't start until he announced he was running for re-election, and I do expect that it will play a part in driving people to participate in voting this year."


Gunter pushed back when asked about Brown's "desperate" comment, arguing he was trying to meet the desire of Nevadans to have "truthful politicians," a jab at Brown's standoffish approach to Trump before finally endorsing his bid for the White House in January.

Gunter, likewise, blasted the Trump trial as "election interference," and praised the former president's record while in office, a common theme on the campaign trail as he continues to seek his endorsement in the race.

Despite largely keeping his focus on Rosen, Brown has also made it a point to applaud Trump while on the trail and has been proactive in seeking the former president's endorsement.

Sam Brown
Former U.S. Army Captain Sam Brown, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Nevada, speaks with supporters at the opening of a new campaign office in Reno April 27, 2024.

In a recent interview with Fox News' Laura Ingraham, he praised Trump's "America First vision" as the reason he "enthusiastically" voted for the former president, and, the same week, visited Mar-a-Lago to try and secure his support, according to a report by CNN.

Additionally, Kristy Wilkinson, Brown's campaign communications director, told Fox News Digital he "would be thrilled to have President Donald J. Trump's endorsement."


"He is the most powerful endorsement in politics, and Sam greatly appreciates all that President Trump is doing to save our country," Wilkinson said.

Brown is the only battleground Republican Senate candidate backed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) not to have Trump's endorsement, but that hasn't stopped the group from emphasizing its preference in the race.

"Jeff Gunter is polling in the single digits because he is a registered Democrat who lived in California until very recently," NRSC Communications Director Mike Berg told Fox. "Most Nevada Republicans don’t like California Jeff because they worry he would support open borders, letting violent criminals out of prison, and defunding the police like a typical California Democrat."

Fox questioned Gunter, who is originally from California, on his history as a Democrat during an exclusive interview earlier this month. He claimed the process of him leaving the party began after 9/11 and culminated when "extreme left-wing progressives" began taking over.

It's unclear why Trump has yet to endorse in the race, but pro-Gunter and pro-Brown sources each expressed confidence to Fox that the former president's backing is well within reach.

Democratic Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen
Sen. Jacky Rosen speaks June 16, 2023, at the East Vegas Library in Las Vegas.

Aside from the rhetoric surrounding Trump, both candidates argue they're the only one who can take on Rosen and flip the seat for Republicans, who have struggled to produce wins in the Silver State in recent election cycles. According to the Rosen campaign, that's far from a foregone conclusion.

"Jacky Rosen has been ranked one of the most bipartisan and effective senators in the nation because of her proven record of political independence and her work across party lines to deliver for Nevada," Rosen campaign spokesperson Johanna Warshaw told Fox News Digital.

"While extreme MAGA Republicans are busy tearing each other down in a divisive and expensive primary, Sen. Rosen is focused on communicating directly to voters about the work she’s doing to fight for Nevadans."

Little polling has been done on the race to indicate a clear leader in the Republican primary. However, Brown maintains a fundraising advantage and, in the few polls that have been conducted, appears to pose more of a challenge to Rosen than his GOP opponents, including Gunter, veteran Air Force pilot Tony Grady and former state Assemblyman Jim Marchant.

Elections analysts rate the race as either a toss-up, "tilt Democratic" or "lean Democratic."

The primaries will be held Tuesday, June 11.

Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub

Original article source: Top battleground Senate race heats up as party-backed Republican faces onslaught from former Trump official