On the Record: Republican Senate candidate Adam Laxalt
Editor's Note: This is one in a series of "On the Record" pieces highlighting the policy stances of candidates running for major offices in the 2022 Nevada election. Click here for additional election coverage. For more information on the policy positions of Laxalt’s opponent, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, click here.
In former attorney general Adam Laxalt, Republicans see an opportunity.
The lawyer and one-time gubernatorial hopeful is now among one of the most well-positioned Republican candidates nationwide, amid an economy wracked by high inflation and surging gas prices.
Now, even as Laxalt has been drastically out-fundraised by the incumbent Democrat, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the conservative who has long held the backing of the Trump-wing of the GOP, including the endorsement of Trump himself, leads every poll — if only by a few percentage points and still within the margin of error.
That includes a Nevada Independent/OH Predictive Insights survey that found Laxalt leading Cortez Masto, 45 percent to 43 percent, with a 3.6 percent margin of error. It was the sixth such poll showing a Laxalt lead, with a seventh, from CNN, released on Thursday.
Those polling averages have been a boon to national Republicans, who have fared less well in major swing contests in Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania, where their nominees have either been wracked by scandal or fallen behind their Democratic rivals.
Laxalt was first elected the state’s attorney general in 2014, and he served one term before running and losing a race for governor in 2018. Laxalt later spent several years as an attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Cooper and Kirk before announcing his Senate bid last summer.
Laxalt declined an interview request for this story. His positions, detailed below, are instead collected from interviews, public statements, social media posts and campaign messaging.
- Inflation and the economy
- Election fraud claims
- Law enforcement
- Second Amendment
- Record as attorney general
Inflation and the economy
More frequently than any other issue, Laxalt has criticized Democratic economic policies amid high inflation and rising gas prices.
In particular, Laxalt has taken aim at a “spending spree” by congressional Democrats and the White House that, he said, has led to the current historic levels of inflation.
Separately, on his website, Laxalt said he would “stand up to reckless mandates that have done enormous damage to the workforce,” and has criticized the length of business shutdowns during the early pandemic, the use of mask mandates and school closures.
“A truly independent senator would never have voted for trillions more in spending just a few weeks ago when our inflation is already at 16 percent,” Laxalt said during an event for the Republican Jewish Coalition late last month. “What is going on is absolutely unsustainable, and it is crushing the Las Vegas Valley and it's crushing the working class and the middle class.”
Year-over-year inflation in the U.S., as tracked by the federal government’s consumer price index, averaged 8.3 percent, according to data released last month from the Bureau of Labor statistics.
Laxalt has also echoed other Republicans in criticizing the Inflation Reduction Act, the sweeping Democrat-backed spending bill designed as a compromise measure between Biden and moderate Democrats in the Senate that, Republicans say, will create knock-on effects for the middle class by increasing corporate taxes.
In particular, Laxalt has criticized the inclusion of additional funding for Internal Revenue Service agents. Democrats argued to include the money as a means to close tax loopholes and pay for spending provisions, including historic investments in climate policy and health care. However, Republicans have targeted the IRS spending in ads, alleging it will be used to hire tens of thousands of IRS agents (independent fact checks have found that most new agents will be replacing those lost to attrition).
Laxalt has also taken aim at Cortez Masto, specifically, for voting against a Republican-backed amendment that would have limited audits to individuals making more than $400,000 annually.
In a tweet referencing that amendment, Laxalt said: “Don’t let them get away with their false promises that this is about targeting the rich. It’s about targeting you.”
Since his days as attorney general, Laxalt has long taken anti-abortion stances and received the backing of prominent anti-abortion groups, including National Right to Life.
On his campaign website, Laxalt also says he opposes taxpayer funding for abortion — an apparent reference to the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funds from being used on abortions, and as a consequence has limited abortion availability through federal programs like Medicaid. He has also often criticized late-term partial birth abortions, which he describes on his website as “barbaric.”
When the Supreme Court overturned the precedent of Roe v. Wade earlier this year, Laxalt said in a statement that the move was a “historic victory for the sanctity of life and principles of self-determination,” arguing that the court had erred in the 1970s by moving to “unilaterally legislate” through Roe in the first place.
Separately, he has argued that abortion should be decided on a “state-by-state” basis. And though he has acknowledged that Nevada voters “have already had their say” — Laxalt called the matter “settled law” in Nevada — he also told a Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist in May that he would support another state referendum limiting abortions to 13 weeks.
Nevada statute allows abortions through 24 weeks, a policy that was baked into state law through a referendum in the 1990s, and would require another vote to change.
Amid a push by some Republicans to create a national abortion ban, including a Senate bill from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that would limit abortions to 15 weeks, Laxalt’s oppoent, Cortez Masto, has attacked Laxalt as an “automatic vote” for such a ban.
In an op-ed published by the Reno Gazette Journal, however, Laxalt called such claims false and “manufactured,” adding that such a ban “would contradict what I have argued for my entire adult life … to return the issue to the people.”
Laxalt has also criticized a bill backed by Cortez Masto that would crack down on so-called “crisis pregnancy centers,” nonprofit anti-abortion clinics, often run by religious groups, that look to counsel women against seeking abortions.
In a tweet, Laxalt accused Cortez Masto of “spreading lies” and “demonizing these charities.”
As attorney general, he also backed at least four state-level legal challenges aiming to restrict abortion access through amicus briefs.
Election fraud claims
In the days leading up to and immediately following the 2020 election, Laxalt — at the time the Trump campaign’s Nevada co-chair — was among the leading Republicans aligned with President Donald Trump challenging the legitimacy of election results showing Democrat Joe Biden as the winner.
There is no evidence of widespread fraud in Nevada. The state’s Republican secretary of state, Barbara Cegavske, also announced there was no “evidentiary support” for fraud claims put forward by Republicans following a review of those claims in 2021.
At a press conference two days after the 2020 presidential election, Laxalt joined other Trump campaign allies in announcing a legal challenge to the election and alleging that “illegal votes” were cast in Clark County, including by deceased voters.
In December, Laxalt filed a separate lawsuit challenging the secretary of state’s ability to keep noncitizens off the state’s voter rolls, alleging that “noncitizens are on the voter rolls and have voted in the past.” Both lawsuits were eventually dismissed by state courts.
In September of last year, Laxalt had apparently pushed the Douglas County clerk, Amy Burgans, to initiate an independent audit of the 2020 election results, according to an email from Burgans to a state elections official at the time. Laxalt, according to Burgans, said that: “Douglas County should take the lead” on such an audit.
In a statement provided to The Nevada Independent in August, a Laxalt spokesperson said the claim was “absurd” and that “Adam has never had a concern with the integrity of elections in Douglas County.”
On the campaign trail, Laxalt has less frequently raised the issue of the 2020 election results, specifically, instead decrying the change to election law in 2020 by state Democrats implementing universal mail voting and same-day registration.
“They went in the middle of the night, 80 days out, and they fundamentally altered our election,” Laxalt told a crowd in February. “And they did that to give Biden a better chance. They did that to change the system, to give him a leg up.”
Laxalt also signaled as far back as last year that he would prepare in advance any challenges of election fraud in the 2022 midterm, saying in media appearances and closed campaign events that he would look to “file lawsuits early.”
On his campaign website, Laxalt also backs the implementation of voter I.D. laws, and opposes universal vote-by-mail, ballot collection — often referred to by critics as “ballot harvesting” — and the use of ballot drop boxes.
When it comes to immigraiton, Laxalt said he will “work to finish [President Donald Trump’s border] wall” and back “technological solutions” to “close the porous southern border,” according to his campaign website. He also backs the Trump administration’s “remain in Mexico” policy, under which the United States sent asylum-seekers back across the border while they waited for a decision on their asylum application.
The Biden administration moved to end the program after taking office, but hit a legal snag after a federal judge sided with a Republican-led lawsuit looking to restart the program. The Supreme Court ruled in June that the White House had the authority to end the program, and in August, the Department of Homeland Security signaled it would move again to do so.
In campaign advertisements, Laxalt has characterized the Biden administration’s opposition to those programs as constituting an “open border” and claimed that Democratic policies have “dismantled border security,” which has also led to crime, human trafficking and drug smuggling.
The Laxalt campaign did not respond to a request for comment from The Nevada Independent earlier this month asking for any additional immigration policies Laxalt wished to see implemented.
Laxalt has frequently touted the support of several law enforcement unions that had backed Cortez Masto’s initial Senate bid in 2016 before switching to his campaign this cycle. That includes the Public Safety Alliance of Nevada and the Nevada Fraternal Order of Police.
Cortez Masto has still retained the support of some other police groups, including the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers, the Nevada Law Enforcement Coalition and the Nevada Police Union. But the defection of some groups has become a central message for Laxalt, who has argued in campaign ads that Cortez Masto is “dangerous for police.”
In a post to his campaign website, Laxalt cited “13 reasons” the groups made the switch, among them, that Cortez Masto “supported the anti-police [Black Lives Matter] movement” and “attacked” law enforcement by alleging “systemic racism” issues.
The post also criticizes Cortez Masto’s backing of three Biden appointees who had previously expressed support for defunding police departments and knocks the senator for opposing a Trump-era plan that would have allowed opioid traffickers to receive the death penalty. (Cortez Masto said in 2020 that she did not support defunding police, and later voted for a budget amendment stripping federal funding from local governments that defunded their police departments.)
Those criticisms have emerged often on the campaign trail, with Laxalt asserting that Democrats saying they did not support defunding the police was a “total and complete lie.”
“Did Catherine Cortez Masto use her position to say ‘not in our city, we will not riot, we will not shoot the police and we will support our cops?” Laxalt asked a crowd at a Republican Jewish Coalition event last month. “The answer is no, she did not, because she stands with the radical left.”
On the campaign trail, Laxalt has frequently criticized the Biden administration for pausing oil and gas leases on federal land, characterizing the move as an end for energy independence and pro-fossil fuel policies from the Trump White House.
Speaking at an event with former Trump Energy Secretary Rick Perry last month, Laxalt said that high gas prices in the U.S. were “a direct result” of Biden policies, naming an end to the Keystone XL pipeline, an effort to “demonize the fossil fuel industry” and policies that disincentivized domestic drilling.
At that same event, he also criticized the efforts by the Biden White House to avoid sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Europe, amid negotiations between the two countries in advance of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“That decision was the decision that gave the Russians unlimited resources to be able to fight that war, to be able to invade Ukraine and sustain this, and so it should give everybody such a clear example of how wrongheaded this administration is,” Laxalt said, before referencing the Keystone pipeline. “Why is it okay for them to have an oil pipeline and not have one here in America?”
At that same event with Rick Perry, Laxalt said that “our country’s energy platform simply cannot sustain anything other than a large mix, which of course includes fossil fuels.”
Similarly, Laxalt has said that a reliance on renewable energy, especially solar and wind power, is “simply not enough.”
“As we know, the sun can stop shining, the wind can stop blowing, and these things take energy just to be able to use, to set them up in the first place,” Laxalt said in an interview with journalist Gabriella Hoffman in late January. In that same interview, he also endorsed an “all-of-the-above” energy policy.
Later, speaking with former National Rifle Association (NRA) spokesperson and conservative media figure Dana Loesch in June, Laxalt said that the responsibility for increasingly severe wildfires in the American West lay with poor forest management policies, rather than climate change.
“You know, we have wildfires here in the West, and what do you see?” he said at the time. “You've got Gavin Newsom and our Governor [Steve Sisolak], they do these big press conferences about global warming being responsible for fires. No, it’s because we don’t have forest management … instead they want to blame something that’s not going to address fires.”
Laxalt has also criticized Democrat-backed campaign ads for attempting to link him to “Big Oil” amid high gas prices, often casting himself instead as a “private citizen.”
And during a crushing drought that has forced historic cuts to water allocations from the Colorado River in Nevada and Arizona as key reservoirs, including Lake Mead, have reached new lows, Laxalt has called for an “all-of-the-above” approach to water “including desalination in California and Arizona.”
Laxalt has often campaigned as a pro-gun candidate, and has earned the endorsement of both the NRA and Gun Owners of America.
Following a Supreme Court decision earlier this year in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association V. Bruen — a case in which the court asserted gun restrictions are only constitutional if there is historic tradition of regulation — Laxalt tweeted that the decision was a “tremendous victory for the constitutional rights of Americans.”
“Today, as politicians in Washington are voting to impose additional restrictions on our constitutional rights, I am grateful that the Supreme Court upheld fundamental principles of our country,” Laxalt wrote, referencing a bipartisan bill expanding gun background checks in the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
On his website, he has also touted his opposition to extreme risk protection orders, more commonly referred to as “red flag” laws. The laws theoretically allow police to temporarily confiscate an individual’s firearms if they are deemed a risk, though Nevada’s own law has been little-used in the years since it was adopted.
As early as 2017, Laxalt had been a vocal opponent of such laws, telling an NRA convention that year that it was “terrifying” that Nevada was “only a veto away” from a red flag law being enacted under then-Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.
But as attorney general, Laxalt’s office was at the center of commissioning a study on the effectiveness of those laws following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in Florida in 2018. That study eventually recommended the creation of such a law in Nevada, and Democratic lawmakers later passed a version of the law in 2019.
Laxalt drew fire during the Republican primary over the study, but he has pointed to his opposition once out of office to the 2019 bill. His political action committee ran online ads that year calling the measure “reckless,” and a Republican lawmaker speaking on his behalf said he opposed the law “100 percent.”
Though the Senate more indirectly interfaces with education policy, most often through financial mechanisms such as grants, Laxalt strongly opposed a move by the Biden White House to forgive some student debt, including $20,000 for Pell Grant borrowers and $10,000 for non-Pell recipients, with no forgiveness for any borrower making more than $125,000 per year.
In a statement released in August, Laxalt called the measure the “Biden/Masto $300 billion student debt bailout,” and said it would “line the pockets of the wealthiest Americans and fuel the flames of inflation.” (Cortez Masto also opposed the debt forgiveness measure, saying in a statement at the time that it did not address the “root causes” of college affordability issues.)
Laxalt does not otherwise list education as an issue on his campaign website, though he has commented on education issues in other states, namely the “parental rights in education” bill in Florida, often referred to by critics as the “don’t say gay” law.
Speaking on a Breitbart podcast earlier this year, Laxalt said: “Why in the world are they fighting so hard for the ability to indoctrinate kids of ages kindergarten through third grade? There can’t be virtually any parent who would actually support the indoctrination by strangers of their children in schools.”
More recently, Laxalt has backed the creation of a “Parental Bill of Rights” more generally.
At an event with the Republican Jewish Coalition last month, Laxalt again criticized the inclusion of gender and social issues in schools and said he would support “defunding critical race theory” in the Senate.
“We also know that this critical race theory and injecting transgenderism into 5- and 6-year-olds is wrong,” he said. “It's false. You use the word controversial. It’s not controversial. We cannot do this to our children, especially when our education is lagging so far behind.”
Nevada nearly saw a school choice program implemented under Gov. Brian Sandoval through the use of education savings accounts. However, the state Supreme Court ruled the funding mechanism was unconstitutional even if the program was not, and the policy was later repealed once Democrats took control of the Legislature in 2019.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled against a potential ballot measure seeking to revive the education savings accounts program.
Record as attorney general
As attorney general, Laxalt joined a host of other Republican attorneys general in opposing a number of executive actions and policy priorities of the Obama administration, including joining a multi-state coalition opposing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2015. It marked his first major public legal action as attorney general.
The move caused a split with Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval at the time, who had separately called for a legislative solution on immigration and in 2017, joined 10 other governors in calling for Congress to prevent the deportation of 800,000 immigrants previously protected under DACA.
The two clashed again in 2015, as Laxalt joined another federal lawsuit challenging Obama-era land use regulations to protect the sage grouse that also removed millions of acres previously declared eligible for mining.
Sandoval’s office said that Laxalt had joined the lawsuit in his “personal capacity” and did not represent the state, though Laxalt responded by again asserting that “the state of Nevada has joined this lawsuit.”
As attorney general, Laxalt also presided over the beginnings of litigation targeting major pharmaceutical companies for their role in the nationwide opioid crisis. As part of early negotiations over how those lawsuits would proceed, Laxalt sparred with Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve over an attempt by the city to file a separate lawsuit.
Laxalt eventually filed a state-level suit against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, in 2018.
As attorney general and in recent weeks, Laxalt has touted the clearing of a years-old backlog of untested rape kits, or forensic evidence kits used after sexual assaults.
In 2014, Nevada came under scrutiny by an outside report alleging Las Vegas police had tested just 16 percent of rape kits between 2004 and 2013, a time span that includes much of the eight-year tenure of Laxalt’s predecessor as attorney general, Cortez Masto.
Laxalt later used a mix of settlement money and federal grants to fund a working group to address the backlog, and announced in 2018 that 95 percent of untested kits had been processed.
In a statement at the time, Laxalt’s office said the backlog processing had led to at least 13 arrests.