Army veteran Sam Brown enters U.S. Senate race
Retired U.S. Army Capt. Sam Brown is entering Nevada's 2024 U.S. Senate race, with the institutional backing of Senate Republicans.
Brown, who made his announcement public at a Monday afternoon event at Bragg Crane Service in Sparks, pitched himself in a statement to The Nevada Independent as the best candidate to take on Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who is running for a second term. Best known as an Army veteran who sustained severe injuries during a 2008 deployment in Afghanistan, Brown has never held office before but garnered attention for strong fundraising during an unsuccessful Nevada Republican Senate primary bid last cycle.
“Right now, the American Dream is at risk,” Brown said. “Joe Biden and Jacky Rosen promised to unite Americans and solve problems. Instead, they’ve abandoned Nevada and divided America with extreme policies to satisfy special interests in Washington.”
In a warehouse on the Bragg property, which was decorated with American flags and had its garage doors open to a backdrop of blue sky and mountains, Brown’s wife, U.S. Army Captain Amy Brown, took the stage first. She focused on Brown as a father to their three children, mentioning that he could give D.C. politicians the same basic economics lessons he gave their children — ages 14, 11 and 8 — in the family living room.
Brown, welcomed to the stage by an increasingly loud chant of “Sam, Sam, Sam,” said he would prioritize Nevadans over “D.C. bureaucrats,” as he accused Rosen of doing.
A common refrain, though not yet an official campaign slogan, was “Nevada values over D.C. values.”
Brown, who moved to Nevada with his family in 2018, is originally from Arkansas, but had lived in Texas since 2008.
After graduating from West Point, Brown was deployed to Kandahar, where he suffered severe burns in an explosion. He underwent several years of physical therapy to recover from his wounds, earning the Purple Heart and Bronze Star medals in the process.
Brown took a ‘country over party’ tack in his statement, emphasizing his military history and framing his candidacy with an eye towards the general election.
“I know our mission to restore the American Dream is achievable if we work together,” Brown continued. “In the military, no one asks you what party you are in. They just want to know they can count on you to get the job done….As your Senator, I will get the job done for Nevada.”
His entry into the race was immediately praised by National Republican Senatorial Committee chair Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), who said he was “very pleased that Sam is stepping up to run for the U.S. Senate.”
In his previous run, Brown lost in the primary to former attorney general Adam Laxalt by more than 20 percentage points. Despite the lopsided total, national Republicans took note of his fundraising capacity — Brown raised more than $4 million — in a contest against a Republican who had high name recognition given that Laxalt had the benefit of a state-famous last name, had already run two statewide campaigns, and was endorsed by former President Donald Trump. On his PAC's website, Brown said more than 42,000 people donated to his 2022 campaign.
Politically, Brown’s 2022 positions reflected the Republican base, both fiscally and socially. He blamed inflation on government spending, which he said he wanted to cut by eliminating several federal agencies. And he is against gun control laws, abortion and the teaching of so-called “critical race theory” in schools, a common conservative belief that schools’ teaching about diversity, inclusion and the country’s racial history has become divisive.
Brown’s campaign launch speech touched on those priorities, but mainly focused on criticisms of Rosen and other Democrats.
Brown argued that Nevada’s low national rankings on education were caused by Rosen being “for the teachers’ unions and bureaucrats … dictating to us how things ought to be.”
“Those are her stakeholders,” Brown said. “I stand here before you today to say that we have to reorient our stakeholders. Our stakeholders ought to be the parents in our communities.”
He added that restoring citizens’ trust in elections was imperative.
“I'll tell you where there is not a restoration of trust and faith is in Jacky Rosen and her leadership,” he said. “She has failed us time and time again.”
Speaking to the press after his speech, Brown also attributed the war in Ukraine to the leadership of Democrats such as Biden and Rosen.
Laxalt, who shares many of Brown’s policy positions, lost to Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) by less than a point last year.
Brown will once again face a candidate with Trump ties in the primary — former state assemblyman and election denier Jim Marchant, who was part of a slate of secretary of state candidates Trump backed in 2022. Marchant has already endorsed Trump for president this cycle.
Brown declined to endorse a Republican presidential candidate, telling reporters at his launch event that he was focused on his own race and trusted that Republicans would put forward a candidate capable of defeating Joe Biden.
In the years after his deployment and recovery, Brown lived in Texas, where he unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the state legislature in 2014. He started a small business providing emergency medicine as an intermediary between veterans’ hospitals and private companies. He and his family moved to Reno in 2018, and sold his business last year.
In the time between campaigns, Brown launched Duty First PAC, which donated to Nevada Republican congressional candidates in the 2022 cycle, and occasionally tweeted out commentary on economic policy or congressional happenings.
State of the primary
While Brown often challenged Laxalt from the right in 2022, including accusing the former attorney general of not prosecuting voter fraud, his path to the 2024 nomination would go through Marchant, a fervent election denier who has remained loyal to the embattled former president, even appearing at Trump’s New Jersey golf club to hear from him the day after his federal arraignment.
While Brown has the support of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — Daines recruited him to run — Marchant may have some local party support. The Republican Party chairs of Clark and Washoe counties spoke at Marchant’s launch event.
After a disastrous 2022 campaign — in which Republicans lost a seat in Pennsylvania and squandered pickup opportunities in Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire and, of course, Nevada, Daines is determined to avoid the “candidate quality” issues that Republicans believe plagued them in the midterms. The NRSC is hoping Brown can maintain a strong enough conservative base of support to win the primary while being appealing enough to independents to take the general election.
Republicans don’t need to flip Nevada to win control of the Senate in 2024, with the balance hanging on just two seats, but it could be a critical part of the equation and represents a major opportunity, given the tight margin of Cortez Masto’s race in 2022. The Cook Political Report gives Rosen the edge, rating the race as “Lean D.” Daines is also hoping to pick off Democrat-held seats in West Virginia, Ohio, and Arizona.
Nevada Democrats, meanwhile, see Brown’s entry into the race as an opportunity for Republicans to wound their chances duking it out amongst themselves for the next year.
“With the entrance of Mitch McConnell’s handpicked candidate Sam Brown, Republicans are in for a brutal and messy primary that will expose their deeply flawed candidates as out of touch with hardworking Nevadans,” state party spokesperson Johanna Warshaw said in a statement.
The Senate primary will be held June 11.
Jeremy Hughes, a Republican strategist in the state, said before Brown’s launch that there are other potential candidates who will be looking at Brown’s first quarterly fundraising report to see whether it will be viable enough to mount a serious bid. But the backing of the NRSC will give him a leg up in fundraising.
“If Sam has a great launch and great first quarter and really puts it together, then they set themselves well on the way to winning the primary and being competitive in the general,” Hughes said.
The Brown campaign just needs to capitalize on that opportunity with strong successive quarters to close out the year, he added, especially because Rosen has proven herself to be a capable fundraiser. Rosen has a record $7.5 million on hand going into the second half of the year.
Challenges from Marchant or former ambassador to Iceland Jeffrey Ross Gunter will also depend on fundraising. Brown may also have to overcome Democratic meddling to boost Marchant, if Democrats use the same strategy they did nationwide in 2022 to help get the most extreme Republicans through primaries in order to best capture independents and win general elections.
“The biggest contributors to Marchant’s campaign will be the Democrats when they try to promote him in April and May of next year,” Hughes said. “That's clearly what they're going to do. Anybody who looks at it and doesn't think that is very Pollyanna-ish. So, that's why it's really on Sam to go out and win the race.”
Updated at 6:15 p.m. on 7/10/23 to add details from announcement event.