Election 2024

Support Us

Nevada Senate GOP hopefuls attack Brown, pan Rosen land bill

Brown’s primary opponents panned the front-runner, who did not participate, as an establishment pick and urged voters not to support him.
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
Election 2024Elections

Republican U.S. Senate candidates gathered in Reno Thursday night to debate who among them would be the best challenger to take on Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) in November — and took shots at the elephant not in the room, front-runner and retired Army Capt. Sam Brown.

The debate, hosted by conservative group RedMove at the Atlantis Casino, included seven candidates competing to be the Republican nominee after the June 11 primary. Both Brown and former ambassador to Iceland Jeff Gunter skipped out on the debate, leaving it as more of an undercard in which contenders (many of whom are perennial candidates) mostly agreed on conservative policy principles, including closing the border to new migrants, ending military aid to Ukraine and sharply curbing government spending.

Real estate agent Stephanie Phillips, former assemblyman and secretary of state candidate Jim Marchant, former deputy mayor of Modesto, California Bill Conrad, retired Air Force Lt. Col. and former lieutenant governor candidate Tony Grady, lawyer Ronda Kennedy, businessman Barry Lindemann and retired doctor Fred Simon participated in a question-and-answer period about border security, the debt and abortion. 

Read five takeaways from the debate below:

  1. Candidates ripped into Sam Brown for his establishment backing and refusal to debate

Brown, who was recruited and endorsed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and boasts endorsements from several sitting senators, chose not to attend Thursday’s debate, adhering to a strategy in which he has mostly focused his fire on Rosen and largely ignored other Republicans.

That didn’t sit well with his challengers, nearly all of whom attacked his support from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and relatively short residence in Nevada. Brown moved to Reno from Texas in 2018.

“Stop giving a Texas interloper money and ad space and everything that is going to … try and mess up our election,” Lindemann said in a closing statement addressed to McConnell. “We need real Nevadans.”

He took a shot at Gunter as well, saying the dermatologist, who has practices in both California and Nevada, was “probably in one of his places in California.”

“It’s either kiss the ring of the establishment, the carpetbaggers, the opportunists in this race, or put your faith in the true Nevadan,” Phillips said.

“I hope you remember the one that’s not here,” Kennedy said to attendees. “The one asking for your money and support, but didn’t even have enough respect to show up here and face us and answer those tough questions.”

The chorus of criticism was reminiscent of issues raised by Brown himself in 2022, when he was the underdog upstart in the GOP Senate primary against the establishment-backed former Attorney General Adam Laxalt. Laxalt and Brown only had one pre-recorded debate, and Brown hammered Laxalt for avoiding debates and being “a career politician — cowardly hiding from voters.”

But Brown, who held a 13-point lead over the next closest challenger, Marchant, in a November poll commissioned by the NRSC, is now pursuing a similar political calculus, at least when it comes to debating. It’s a strategy mirroring that of former President Donald Trump, who has skipped presidential debates — and whom Brown recently endorsed.

In a statement to The Nevada Independent, Brown’s campaign said he “is the only candidate in this race with the resources, support and grassroots energy to take on Jacky Rosen.”

  1. Only a few candidates suggested taking a new tack on abortion

Unsurprisingly, all seven candidates described themselves as personally against abortion. The issue has taken on massive political significance since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, advantaging Democrats, whose abortion messaging helped candidates like Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) hang onto their seats.

As Republicans all over the country grapple with how to message on abortion, and Nevada Democrats continually hammer Brown over the issue, most of the Republicans onstage Thursday were content to reiterate traditional Republican talking points.

Marchant told a story about an anti-abortion protester standing his ground in front of a church that wanted him to move along. Lindemann suggested a standard requiring clinics that receive federal funding to show patients a sonogram. Conrad said abortion will not be as significant an issue this cycle, adding that Republicans should stand their moral ground and refer to Democrats as the “party of death.”

But two candidates — Phillips and Grady — reminded voters that Nevada law, via a 1990 referendum, protects abortion up to 24 weeks, and can only be undone in the state via another statewide vote. A national ban, like the one proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), would override Nevada law.

“I’m not going to tell a woman what to do with her body,” Phillips said. “That is not my place. The law is what it is.”

Several candidates agreed that the challenge this cycle will be convincing voters that Democrats are scaremongering on the issue, and that contrary to Democratic messaging, abortion is not on the ballot.

While the national abortion ban has not received a vote, Senate Democrats have argued that between court cases challenging the use of abortion pills, and their efforts to codify Roe and the right to interstate travel for an abortion, abortion remains relevant in Congress.

  1. Marchant is pushing his own currency

At several points in the debate, Marchant, likely the best-known among the attendees for his prior statewide run and strong election denialism, took a gold bill out of his suit jacket and encouraged attendees to purchase them.

The former assemblyman, who is selling these goldbacks under a “Marchant Gold” brand at $4.20 per bill, said the currency would serve holders after the U.S. dollar collapses, an event he predicted several times.

“These are the dagger in the heart of the Federal Reserve,” Marchant said during a segment on monetary policy. “Everybody needs to get these. That way you’ll be able to buy and barter … when our dollar does collapse.”

Marchant advocated for a return to the gold standard, a fringe position supported by far-right Republicans such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). The U.S. disallowed creditors from demanding gold payments in 1933 and fully abandoned the gold standard in 1971.

  1. Nearly every candidate was against Rosen’s Washoe County lands bill

Rosen’s recently introduced Washoe County Lands Bill has broad buy-in from local municipalities and conservation groups. But you wouldn’t know that from the Republican debate, in which nearly every candidate said they opposed the bill.

The bill would designate nearly 16,000 acres of public land to be sold at auction to interested companies, developers or individuals, and place conservation protections on nearly 950,000 acres of public land in the county, making those areas ineligible for development.

Some candidates opposed the lands bill on the grounds that it permits expansion without a water plan, while others argued against any government management of land. Only Conrad suggested the bill was a “start in the right direction.”

“I don’t agree with the government coming in, controlling and managing anything,” Kennedy said. “We need to look at this land to entice businesses to come to Nevada.”

  1. Some differences on Ukraine

While candidates were united in wanting to slash government spending and penalize people who enter the U.S. illegally, candidates had a few differences on how to handle national security priorities.

Several said they wanted to cut all military assistance to Ukraine in its war against Russia, with Simon providing justification for Russia’s incursion into its neighbor based on Ukraine’s sizable Russian population and Phillips saying the war is a money laundering scheme for the Biden family.

Those positions reflect an increasing anti-Ukraine attitude among rank-and-file Republican members of the House. In the Senate, however, Republicans are more supportive of Ukraine, though they have insisted it be paired with migration policy changes.

Grady and Lindemann argued that the U.S. has some obligation to Ukraine, with Grady saying it revolves around the grand U.S. strategy to keep potential wars far away from its borders and that disengagement could prove damaging.

“Not all Ukraine spending bills are sending money [there],” Grady said. “Some of them are replenishing our own arsenals.”

But for the most part, the Senate hopefuls slammed Ukraine funding.

“(Ukraine) is a money laundering, drug trafficking [scheme] set up by Obama,” Marchant said, referencing the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution in which pro-Western forces ousted a president sympathetic to Russia. “That’s how they’ve been getting all of their money to campaign against us.”


Get more election coverage

Click to view our election page

Featured Videos