Trump visit to small Nevada town highlights importance of rural voters to state Republicans



When former President Donald Trump landed in Minden, Nevada, on Saturday to campaign for a Republican ticket, he landed in a city of just under 3,500 people, about 0.1% of the state’s population.

It’s a small stop for the former president, who had a larger-than-expected turnout in rural stretches of the country like Minden to the White House in 2016. But it highlights how important rural counties are to Nevada Republicans like Senate candidate Adam Laxalt. and gubernatorial hopeful Joe Lombardo in the critical midterm elections.

“We believe that rural Nevada is the key to taking our state back,” Laxalt said during a stop late last year in Winnemucca, a mining town of fewer than 8,000 people in northern Humboldt County.

Nevada, which Trump lost twice, represents one of the biggest tests for Democratic power in the 2022 midterm elections. The party holds all but one statewide office in Nevada, and Democratic presidential candidates have carried the state in every race. elections since 2008, propelled by the force of the late Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid’s so-called Reid Machine. But those Democratic margins have been shrinking and after coronavirus pandemic shutdowns dramatically hit Nevada’s tourism-focused economy, Republicans see a huge opportunity for profit in the state, with their hopes pinned on trying to Lombardo to unseat Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak and Laxalt’s challenge. Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto.

A CNN poll released Thursday found no clear leader in either race: Laxalt and Lombardo had the support of 48% of likely voters compared to 46% for Cortez Masto and Sisolak.

The same poll was riddled with warning signs for Democrats. Forty-four percent of registered Nevada voters said the country would be better off if Republicans were in control of Congress, compared to 35% who said it would not. More Republican voters in Nevada said they were extremely motivated to vote: 62% vs. 52% of Democrats. And 41% of voters said the economy was the most important issue in the midterms, something Republicans have used to criticize Democrats.

Nevada has been home to one of the most dramatic and politically important urban-rural divides in recent years. And that split could prove even more crucial in November, given the tight Senate and gubernatorial races.

Rural voters make up a small fraction of Nevada’s electorate, and the state’s major urban centers (Clark County, home to Las Vegas, and Washoe County, home to Reno) make up nearly 90% of Nevada’s population of about 3.1 million. According to an Iowa State University study, Nevada’s rural population fell from nearly 20% of the state in 1970 to less than 6% in 2010.

Nevada’s urbanization has long allowed Democratic candidates in the state to run with one strategy: boost the vote total in Las Vegas, narrowly win or at least stay competitive in the Reno area, and lose big in the areas. rural Nevada. Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the Senate, followed this strategy in 2016 when she lost every county in Nevada except Clark, but still won a first term by more than 2 points.

In recent years, that strategy has paid even bigger dividends as Washoe County, the state’s second-largest, has tilted Democratic. Democratic presidential candidates have carried Washoe County in the last four presidential elections, while Sisolak and junior state senator Jacky Rosen won the county in 2018.

That has put more pressure on Nevada Republicans not only to close the gap in Clark and Washoe counties, but also to increase turnout as much as possible in rural areas.

Whether such a “rural-first” strategy can lead to victories is an open question, according to David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“It’s a big part of the Republican playbook, but every year it’s smaller and smaller,” he said of the GOP’s attempts to attract rural voters. “It’s about narrowing the margin at Clark. What has happened is that even though Trump did that last time, Washoe is becoming more liberal. … It’s a bit of a game of whack-a-mole for the Republicans.”

Laxalt knows firsthand the pressure he faces. When he successfully ran for state attorney general in 2014, he became the only statewide candidate in decades to lose Clark and Washoe counties, but won the election when he narrowly defeated Democrat Ross Miller.

Laxalt did what a statewide Republican candidate needed to do in Nevada in that race: He kept margins low in Clark and Washoe (he lost the former by less than 6 points and the latter by 1 point) and earned solid margins in the rest. of the state. .

Laxalt also knows that it is not a perfect strategy. Nevada’s increased urbanization has put pressure on that rural-focused strategy, as evidenced by Laxalt’s 4-point loss to Sisolak in 2018. In that race, Laxalt once again lost to both Clark and Washoe, but this time by wider margins, including losing the Las Vegas area by nearly 14 points.

Laxalt, on multiple tours of rural Nevada during his Senate campaign, has emphasized the importance of the area to his success. At the same time, he had to walk a fine line between making false claims about the validity of the 2020 election, including Republican concerns about vote counting in Clark County, and the need to increase rural turnout. Laxalt has done so by raising unsubstantiated questions about the Clark County election while emphasizing to rural voters that their votes matter.

“At the end of the day, rural Nevada can provide 75,000-vote cushions, so rural Nevada is still important,” he told an audience in Fallon in late 2021. “Rural Nevada is bummed out. They think that Las Vegas is all that matters. Is not true. Blocking votes from rural Nevada still makes a big difference.”

Brian Freimuth, a spokesman for Laxalt, said in a statement that the Republican’s effort “is the busiest campaign in the state” and has “hosted events in every rural county, dozens of rural meet and greets, a cattle drive and events.” with ranchers and farmers.”

“Rural Nevadans know that Adam’s record on water rights, the Second Amendment, sage grouse and fighting federal overreach make him the best candidate in this race,” Freimuth said.

Cortez Masto, arguably the most vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbent in the country, has focused much of her campaign on linking Laxalt to Trump. Laxalt, who was a co-chairman of Trump’s 2020 campaign in Nevada, was instrumental in filing election lawsuits seeking to overturn the presidential result in the state, which Biden won by 2 points. Those demands did not change the outcome of the election.

Cortez Masto has also sought to cut into Laxalt’s lead in rural areas.

As a former state attorney general, she embarked on a rural tour of Nevada in August, campaigning in communities like Ely, Elko, Winnemucca and Fallon, all with populations of less than 20,000 people.

“When I became your U.S. Senator, it was just as important to me to get out there and talk to Nevadans, because here’s the deal: To me, it’s about us all succeeding and the rising tide lifting us all up. everyone,” he said. in Eli. “At the end of the day, your party affiliation, your background is about making sure your families are successful, your businesses are successful, we’re all in this together.”

Cortez Masto has been endorsed by several rural Republican leaders, including former Winnemucca Mayor Di An Putnam and Ely Mayor Nathan Robertson, who said in a statement that the incumbent “will continue to work hard in the Senate to champion issues important to all Nevadans.” rural. ”

In response to a question from CNN about Trump’s meeting with Laxalt in rural Nevada, Cortez Masto spokesman Josh Marcus-Blank said, “No one did more to nullify the 2020 election for Donald Trump than Adam Laxalt. , and once again he is being rewarded. ”


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