Trumpworld heads to Nevada to boost MAGA loyalist in Senate primary’s final days

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HENDERSON, Nev. — Former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt served as a fierce foot soldier in former President Donald Trump’s efforts to challenge the 2020 election results.

Now, he’s getting rewarded for that loyalty.

In the closing days before Tuesday’s Republican U.S. Senate primary, the Trump cavalry has arrived.

Friday night, Donald Trump Jr. holds a rally for Laxalt in Las Vegas. Joining him on stage will be Trump’s former acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker.

On Wednesday, Laxalt went door-knocking in northern Nevada with Richard Grenell, acting director of national intelligence during the Trump administration who has acted as a frequent Laxalt surrogate during the campaign. That same day, Alex Bruesewitz, a conservative activist affiliated with the Stop the Steal movement, spoke at a Clark County gathering for Laxalt.

“We are the top of the ticket and it is our job in November to excite our base and turn out our voters. We have been building on this momentum and this grassroots support since day one,” Laxalt campaign spokesman John Burke said in a statement. “Every event we do and every surrogate we have is part of that plan.”

On Wednesday, Trump himself held a call with Laxalt supporters, urging them to back his onetime Nevada presidential campaign co-chair.

“We can’t take any chances. So get out and vote. A vote for any other candidate in the primary is really a vote that’s hurting your state very badly and your country very badly because it’s not going to register. It’s not going to help,” Trump said on the call.

Laxalt thanked Trump on the call, referring to him as “the president of the United States.”

That call followed in-state visits by prominent Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Laxalt’s campaign crescendo comes after signals last month that retired Army Captain Sam Brown — the opponent Laxalt barely mentioned at the beginning of the race — was making progress toward closing a previous 38-point gap between the two candidates.

The contest has now boiled down to the might of national MAGA figures for Laxalt against Brown, a scrappy veteran who has appealed to grassroots Republicans inside and outside of Nevada, garnering more than 40,000 individual contributors with his posture as an outsider and his harrowing personal story of a near-death experience in Afghanistan that left him disfigured.

The concerted push behind Laxalt, who already enjoys considerable name ID given his role as a former statewide office holder as well as his late grandfather’s tenure as a U.S. senator and governor, has also included the marshaling of resources from outside groups, underscoring the long odds Brown must overcome to build on the momentum he started gaining last month.

In May, a state-wide poll by the Nevada Independent and OH Predictive Insights, an independent polling firm, had Brown narrowing Laxalt's lead to 15 points. Brown’s campaign contended its internal tracking showed the race in a dead heat, NBC News previously reported.

A new poll by Nevada Independent and OH Predictive Insights published Friday had Laxalt with a 14 point lead over Brown, 48 percent to 34 percent, in a survey of 525 likely Republican primary voters.

But the contrast in campaigns was perhaps best illustrated by life on the trail Wednesday.

On the same day Trump fired up Laxalt supporters in a telerally, Brown was trudging through a neighborhood in Henderson, a city outside of Las Vegas, as temperatures soared to 111 degrees.

Sweat visibly soaking into his gray “Sam Brown for Senate” hat, Brown walked alone, no GOP superstars beside him, hanging literature on door knobs.

On the rare occasion someone answered the door, he was greeted by parents too busy to talk as they tended to dinner, residents who said they only voted in “the big elections,” a receptive voter who liked him but wasn’t a registered Republican, and a homeowner pulling back his barking dog as Brown attempted to talk over the noise.

As he continued through the well-manicured neighborhood amid an early evening sauna, with dogs aggressively jumping at windows and cameras at empty homes announcing “you are being recorded,” Brown dismissed the flashiness of the Laxalt campaign’s endorsements.

“What we’ve come to realize is that Laxalt and his political celebrity buddies are desperate to have a campaign that looks like it’s winning. We’re desperate to have a campaign that is actually winning,” he told NBC News. “When a campaign is completely sponsored by D.C., that’s all they know how to do. You can’t artificially manufacture local grassroots support by yourself.”

Like Laxalt, Brown has been holding events across the state in the final days of the race. On Wednesday, he met with a women's group before his door-knocking, followed by a meet-and-greet near Las Vegas.

Though Laxalt has long been the favorite to win the primary, Brown has shown signs of growing support, particularly among grassroots supporters, as evidenced by small dollar donations and local party backing.

And through Friday, Brown had outspent Laxalt on TV ads by about 50 percent since the race began, according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact.

In recent weeks, despite Trump’s early endorsement of Laxalt, Brown won a trio of GOP straw polls, including the state Republican Party and in Clark County, the largest county in Nevada.

But Laxalt and his allies moved to blunt that surge in the past few weeks. Brown has since fallen behind in both fundraising and ad spending. In addition to the high-profile events for Laxalt, outside groups marshaled more resources. On Wednesday and Thursday alone, three PACs — two of which had not yet spent money in the race — bolstered Laxalt with $300,000 in television and mail spending, Federal Election Commission figures show. That included funding from the Make America Great Again, Again super PAC.

The flurry of late spending by outside groups has helped flip the TV dynamics. Now, Laxalt and allies are on track to outpace Brown two-to-one from a time period beginning in May, according to data that NBC News analyzed from AdImpact. The data show an influx of resources ticking up in mid-May, when outside groups joined efforts to boost Laxalt. Then, the conservative PAC Club for Growth re-entered the scene and, as of Thursday, poured $500,000 into TV spending.

Still, Brown argued he would prevail Tuesday, as some in Henderson indicated an openness to vote for him.

One man listened intently to Brown’s pitch and asked, “are you conservative?”

When Brown said yes, the man gazed at Brown’s face, visibly scarred by injuries suffered from life-threatening burns.

He proudly shook Brown’s hand, asked for his literature and relayed that he, too, was a combat veteran.

CORRECTION (JUNE 10, 2022, 09:54 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misidentified Alex Bruesewitz. He is a conservative activist affiliated with the Stop the Steal movement; he did not help organize the Jan. 6 rally in Washington.