Election 2024

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Brown wins primary to face Rosen; Lombardo-backed composer loses race to challenge Lee

A former North Las Vegas mayor endorsed by Trump also prevailed, while Rep. Dina Titus will face the same opponent as two years ago.
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
CongressElection 2024

Army veteran Sam Brown won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, giving national Republicans their preferred choice for GOP nominee in a marquee race that could determine control of the upper chamber.

He will face Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), a one-term incumbent who easily won her primary Tuesday, in a race that political analysts project as a toss-up. With Democrats sure to lose retiring Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) seat and defending a whopping seven seats in red or swing states this cycle, a loss in Nevada would all but guarantee a Republican majority in the Senate. 

Republican primary voters in Nevada’s three Las Vegas-based House districts — each currently represented by Democrats — also selected a former North Las Vegas mayor, a candidate who lost a nailbiter Clark County Commission race last cycle and the same candidate who faced off with Rep. Dina Titus two years ago to challenge those incumbents. Only one of two candidates backed by popular Gov. Joe Lombardo (R-NV) prevailed.

Political analysts favor each of the House Democrats to hang on to their seats. They expect Congressional District 3 Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) to have the closest race, but a wealthy video game composer backed by Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo came in fourth.

But the Senate race will be the biggest and most expensive non-presidential election in the state. 

Brown wins Senate nomination

Brown, who previously mounted an underdog bid in the 2022 Senate primary but ultimately lost to former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, was the preferred candidate this time around by the Republican political establishment in Nevada and D.C. 

He had the backing of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), and was endorsed Lombardo.

Brown got the biggest endorsement in Republican politics — a stamp of approval from former President Donald Trump — with two days to go until Election Day and most ballots already cast. While Trump kept voters waiting — declining to endorse during an hourlong rally in Las Vegas on Sunday — he ultimately gave Brown the go-ahead Sunday night on Truth Social, praising his military background and comeback from a combat injury that left him with severe burns.

With a fundraising advantage and front-runner status, Brown spent most of the primary focused on the general, skipping primary debates and targeting his messaging strategy on Rosen and President Joe Biden. 

His primary opponents, meanwhile, attacked him relentlessly — particularly Jeff Gunter, a dermatologist and former ambassador to Iceland. Gunter referred to Brown as a Republican in Name Only and “swamp creature” in advertisements and posts, ran multiple ads criticizing Brown — including on unearthed 2022 comments in which he expressed openness to storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. 

Another opponent, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Tony Grady, accused Brown of “waffling” on Yucca, creating graphics and videos of Brown on a plate of waffles.

But for all of the attacks, Brown never engaged with his opponents — even when his wife, Amy, was offended by a Gunter ad she said digitally emphasized the scars he received from a roadside bomb explosion in Afghanistan that left him severely burned and forced him to medically retire from the military. It was a tactic borne out by his internal polling, which continually found him leading by significant margins and suggested Gunter’s ads were repelling as many voters as they were attracting. 

And while Gunter spent more than $2 million in advertising, per AdImpact, Brown committed only $621,000, and only aired positive ads. His associated political action committee, Duty First Nevada PAC, emptied more of its coffers — $918,000, including airing an attack ad on Gunter. Brown was also boosted by Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity Action, which dropped more than $400,000 on ads supporting him.

Sam Brown, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, and his wife, Amy, vote at Reno High School in the Primary Election on June 11, 2024. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

That strategy paid off. As of 10:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Brown won nearly 60 percent of the vote, beating second-place Gunter by more than 40 points. He won every county — and was particularly strong in Washoe County, where he lives.

Former Assemblyman Jim Marchant (R-Las Vegas), a nominee for secretary of state last cycle, finished a distant third with just less than 7 percent of the vote.

At a Tuesday victory party at a Reno hotel, Brown thanked his parents for “raising him to be a man who’s not afraid of anything.” 

Victory party attendee Scott McKinley, 70, said that he’s “excited for Sam Brown” and noted that he’s “focused on the mission and his objectives, which are border security, the economy, and making sure that every layer of Americans are taken care of.”

In an interview Monday, when asked what made him the best candidate in the primary, Brown only discussed his general election opponent.

“I can just tell you what I'm about, and it's a clear contrast from Jacky Rosen,” he said.

The greatest acknowledgment Brown’s campaign gave that he was competing in a primary at all was his increasing friendliness to Trump as the election neared. While Brown was more hesitant about the former president when he first announced his candidacy nearly a year ago, not endorsing him upon launch, he eventually endorsed Trump shortly before the Iowa caucus in January.

He frequently referenced volunteering for Trump’s campaign in 2020, and he went to Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago in April to try to personally appeal to the former president.

After a last-minute wooing campaign from Brown and Gunter — NRSC chairman Steve Daines called Trump twice last week on Brown’s behalf, while Gunter spoke to the former president at a fundraiser last weekend hosted by their mutual benefactor Don Ahern — Trump backed Brown.

“Sam has already proven his Love for our Country, being horrifically wounded, and making the Comeback of a Lifetime,” Trump wrote on Truth Social. “Sam Brown has my Complete and Total Endorsement – HE WILL NEVER LET YOU DOWN!”

Brown’s orbit is already focused on the general election. Duty First Nevada PAC, a super PAC supporting the GOP nominee, released a 30-second ad Tuesday evening highlighting Brown’s military service.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) launched a minute-long digital ad immediately after the race was called for Brown, attacking him on abortion, Medicare, Social Security and his past Yucca Mountain stance.

House primaries

In the House primaries, one of two Lombardo-backed candidates prevailed and outside Republican groups’ hopes that independently wealthy candidates would win in primaries were dashed.

Mark Robertson, Drew Johnson and John Lee will now face Reps. Dina Titus (D-NV), Susie Lee (D-NV) and Steven Horsford (D-NV), respectively, in November, a trio of Las Vegas-based representatives who have proven difficult to defeat. 

Even after redistricting in 2022 gave each district narrow Democratic majorities, making all of them potential pickups for Republicans, they were able to beat back challengers last cycle despite a wave of outside spending.

John Lee, former North Las Vegas Mayor and Republican candidate for Nevada's 4th Congressional District, during a rally for former President Donald J. Trump at Sunset Park in Las Vegas on June 9, 2024. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Given the diminishing returns last cycle and a battleground map focused on seats in the expensive media markets of New York City and Los Angeles, the Republican challengers had less support from outside groups thus far this cycle than their counterparts in 2022. 

With national Republican groups hesitant to spend in Las Vegas, their hopes rested on self-funders prevailing in the primaries. But they did not get their wish — self-funders in CD1 and CD3 lost, leaving a likely financing gap between the Republican challengers and the Democratic incumbents who benefit from significant outside spending on their behalf and the power of Democratic small-dollar digital fundraising. 

Lee, whose 4 percentage point victory in 2022 left her with the closest margin, has a war chest of more than $2 million to take on Johnson. Johnson loaned his campaign $200,000, but he had been competing against video game composer Marty O’Donnell, who had put $500,000 into his run, and former treasurer Dan Schwartz, who loaned his campaign $800,000.

On a night when Lombardo-backed candidates performed well in state legislative primaries, Congressional District 3 proved a rare miss. O’Donnell had been recruited and endorsed by Lombardo and was working with the same consulting team that powered his 2022 victory. But by the end of Election Day, he stood in fourth behind Johnson, Schwartz and former state Sen. Elizabeth Helgelien. 

As Election Day votes trickled in Tuesday night, Johnson had won nearly one-third of the vote, with no other candidate surpassing 23 percent.

And in CD1, voters will get a rematch between Rep. Dina Titus and 2022 candidate Mark Robertson. Robertson was significantly outspent by independently wealthy restaurateur Flemming Larsen, who had $1.5 million on hand at the end of March to Robertson’s sum of less than $92,000.

Mark Robertson, Republican candidate for Nevada's Congressional District 1, during a rally in Las Vegas on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

But Robertson led Larsen by 10 points at the end of Election Day.

In Congressional District 4, Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) will face former North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, a Democrat turned Republican who received endorsements from Trump and Lombardo. He defeated veteran David Flippo by nearly 10 points as of Tuesday night.

Of the three Republican challengers, Lee is the only one to have held elected office and comes with the most institutional support. In 2022, Horsford defeated his Republican challenger by about 5 percentage points.

Meanwhile, Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) coasted to an easy victory over primary challenger Fred Simon in the Northern Nevada-based Congressional District 2. He has not drawn a Democratic opponent this cycle, and instead will face independent Greg Kidd.

Amodei has won every election he’s been in — primary and general — since he first ran for the seat in 2011.

Reporter Kelsea Frobes contributed to this story


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