Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s top lieutenant says he’s running for his boss’s job — but only if Laxalt decides to run for governor.
Wes Duncan, a former state assemblyman and Laxalt’s first assistant Attorney General, was succinct when asked directly if he planned to run for attorney general if Laxalt, as widely expected, decides to run for governor in 2018.
“Yes,” he said in an email.
While Duncan answered hypothetically, other signs point to him preparing a serious bid with slightly less than a year and half before the 2018 election. His Twitter account is stocked with pictures from obscure Republican Party events in Storey and Douglas counties, and he’s begun working with November Inc., the political firm helmed by Mike Slanker, which has run campaigns for Republicans such as Gov. Brian Sandoval, Sen. Dean Heller and Lieutenant Gov. Mark Hutchison.
Duncan, a 36-year-old attorney who spent time in Iraq as a member of the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps and a brief spell under Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson before leaving to work for the attorney general’s office in 2014, declined to comment further about the race.
But at least one influential Republican donor, who asked to remain anonymous, said he’s been approached by Duncan about running in recent months and plans to hold fundraisers for what could be a $1 million plus race.
“I think the inner circle, his friends, his family, are aware he’s running,” the donor said. “It’s time to get out there and make it official.”
But the ultimate decision will likely lie with Laxalt, who won a close race over former Secretary of State Ross Miller in 2014 and has raised more than $1.1 million over the course of 2016 with more than $1.5 million on hand for a future race. Several other high-profile Republicans, including Heller, Hutchison and Rep. Mark Amodei, took themselves out of running for governor early in 2017.
Robert Uithoven, a campaign consultant for Laxalt, declined to comment about Duncan or Laxalt’s future plans.
Several former attorneys general have used the role as a jumping off point to higher office, with recent examples including Sandoval and Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. No other major candidates for the attorney general’s race have emerged, though Democrats such as Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford and Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson are expected to consider jumping in the race.
Similar to Laxalt, Duncan emerged from relative political obscurity in 2013 to defeat a heavy Democratic favorite and likely Assembly Speaker Marcus Conklin after his district was redrawn to include more registered Republican voters.
Pat Hickey, who headed the Assembly Republican Caucus during the 2013 session, said he was impressed with Duncan’s work ethic as a first-time candidate considering Conklin spent more than $700,000 to try to keep the seat.
“Meeting Wes, he’s someone cut out of central casting,” he said. “He’s just the kind of younger professional with not just the passion to want to be involved in public service, but the prospects of bringing a real skill set.”
As a freshman member in the minority party in 2013, Duncan introduced few bills and only one — allowing 16-year-olds to donate blood with their parent’s consent — became law. Other measures, such as creating a tax credit for a school tuition program, creating a state auditor, revising construction defect law and allowing the state to create “charter agencies” failed to gain traction. He was one of seven members named to a special committee that voted to oust former Assemblyman Steven Brooks after an apparent mental breakdown.
Despite being on the short list of possible Assembly speakers after Republicans took control of the Legislature in 2014, Duncan instead resigned shortly after the election and took a role with Laxalt’s office. His most high-profile role in the office has been leading a working group to cut back on the number of untested sexual assault forensic kits (numbering more than 8,000 statewide), including recently presenting a bill alongside Assembly Democrats mandating quicker testing and submission of the kits.
Update at 9:16 a.m. to correct Wes Duncan’s age, other background information.