Trump-loving Nevada Republican preparing "voter fraud" challenges — 220 days before election

Adam Laxalt is trying "to overturn this election before a single ballot has been cast," says Democratic opponent

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published March 29, 2022 6:00AM (EDT)

Former Donald Trump Nevada campaign co-chairman and former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt speaks at a campaign event for U.S. President Donald Trump at Xtreme Manufacturing on September 13, 2020 in Henderson, Nevada. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Former Donald Trump Nevada campaign co-chairman and former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt speaks at a campaign event for U.S. President Donald Trump at Xtreme Manufacturing on September 13, 2020 in Henderson, Nevada. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Nevada Republican Adam Laxalt, a candidate for U.S. Senate in this year's midterms, is already "vetting" outside groups to challenge supposed "voter fraud" in his election — roughly 220 days before it happens.

Laxalt, who was branded by local media as the "Nevada version of Rudy Giuliani" after leading Donald Trump's failed post-election legal challenges in the state, first began discussing "lawsuits we can file to try to tighten up the election" in September of 2021, claiming that the 2020 race had been "stolen" from Trump. Now Laxalt says he is fielding offers from outside groups to create "election observer" teams and lay out a legal strategy, even before he has even won the Republican primary. 

"I don't talk about that, but we're vetting which group we think is going to do better," Laxalt told a voter at his campaign headquarters in an audio recording obtained by The New York Times.

Laxalt has falsely claimed that the only reason that Trump's legal challenges failed in the state was because they were filed too late. "The [Trump] campaign was late and the [Republican] party was late," he said. "So, it's just different now. There's a lot of groups that are saying there's election fraud."

In fact, Trump's legal challenges failed in Nevada because there was no evidence of any improprieties that could have affected the outcome of the election. Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cagavske investigated Republican claims of voter fraud and found no evidence to corroborate the allegations, just as election officials have found no evidence to back Trumpworld's widespread voter fraud claims in any other state (which has surely not been for a lack of trying). A Nevada court similarly found no evidence "that the 2020 general election in Nevada was affected by fraud."

RELATED: Nevada GOP Senate candidate threatens election lawsuits — 14 months before anybody votes

Laxalt at his campaign office said that he expects to have support from the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, who now works at the right-wing Conservative Partnership Institute, a group that seeks to move congressional Republicans even further to the right. Laxalt vowed that he would use donor funds from his campaign to hire a legal team if no outside groups can "do this right."

Despite Laxalt's claim on the surreptitious recording that he doesn't "talk about" his strategy, the Trump-endorsed Republican has repeatedly bragged to allies and supporters that he plans to launch legal challenges months before anyone votes.

"I'm working with a few other groups now; we have to have a multipronged program to do our best to secure this election," Laxalt told former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka during an interview on Gorka's show in January.

Federal law prohibits candidates from coordinating directly with independent expenditure groups, so it's unclear who Laxalt might be "working with." 

Laxalt also appeared on former Trump strategist Steve Bannon's podcast that same month. Bannon asked the candidate how he would "make sure they don't steal a Senate seat from us."

"There's a lot of groups that have raised a ton of money" to challenge the 2022 election, Laxalt replied. "My job over the next few months is to figure out which is the best group to work with; which is the group that we have the most confidence in. And we need an election integrity plan. We're putting that together now. Unfortunately, when you're running for U.S. Senate, it is really, really hard to also be in charge of that kind of effort. And so we need people to step up."

Laxalt's campaign did not respond to Salon's request for comment. He told the New York Times in a statement that "every voter deserves more transparency and to be confident in the accuracy of their election results, and I will proudly fight for them."

Laxalt is the overwhelming favorite to win the Republican primary, leading his nearest rival by nearly 40 points in recent polling. In the fall, he will presumably face Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the Democratic incumbent, in what will likely be a very close race. Masto's campaign recently called out Laxalt for "peddling Trump's Big Lie" throughout the race so far.

"Now he's sinking even lower by attempting to overturn this election before a single ballot has been cast," campaign spokesman Josh Marcus-Blank said in a statement. "Nevadans rejected Laxalt last time because they don't trust him, and this is further proof that he is only out for himself." (Laxalt, the state's former attorney general, ran for governor in 2018, losing to Democrat Steve Sisolak.)

Laxalt also suggested during an interview with OAN that he would investigate the 2020 election if he is elected to the Senate despite the fact that countless investigations, audits and recounts have turned up absolutely zero evidence of fraud.

"You know, it's funny because I'm always getting pushed to kind of drop what happened in the elections ... and I simply refuse to move," Laxalt said ,after being asked whether he would "investigate what happened Nov. 3" [of 2020].

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Laxalt's nonstop focus on nonexistent voter fraud underscores how firmly the Republican Party has embraced Trump's lies, even though they failed to affect any election outcome and ultimately led to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and Trump's record-setting second impeachment. Trump's campaign filed 60 legal challenges after the election and lost 59 of them, the only exception being a Pennsylvania case over a state-ordered extension for mailed ballots, which had no effect on the outcome.

It also makes clear how important the fantastical narrative about "voter fraud" in the 2020 election has become to Trump and his core supporters. Last week Trump blasted far-right Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., who was accused of helping organize the Jan. 6 march before the riot, as "woke" after Brooks told supporters  it was time to move on from the 2020 election. Trump rescinded his endorsement of Brooks in the Alabama U.S. Senate primary, which may have more to do with the fact that Brooks was trailing badly in polls and had difficulty raising money.

"No top Nevada Republican has raised more doubts about the state's elections system" than Laxalt, NBC News reported last month, citing Laxalt's attempts to cast suspicion on the election results in Las Vegas while speaking to supporters in rural areas of the state. (The Las Vegas metro area accounts for roughly 90% of Nevada's population.)

"I understand the rurals feel like: 'You know what? Las Vegas keeps taking these elections, and as long as that's happening, what vote do we have? What say do we have?'" Laxalt said during a speech in Winnemucca last October, before assuring rural Republicans that their vote would count. "Well look, each election is through each particular county's voter registrar. Your votes are going to count," he said. "Your votes are going to matter. And so you have to vote. We're going to have to deal with Las Vegas, and we're going to work on a plan for that."

During another speech he told supporters in Elko County that their "elections are legitimate," unlike those in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas.

"I do think votes count here. I do think votes count in at least 15 counties," he said during another speech in October.

Dan Kulin, a spokesman for Clark County's registrar, told NBC that Laxalt was "repeating false allegations that have been disproven and rejected by the courts and investigations."

Democrats slammed Laxalt for suggesting that voter fraud only happened in more diverse urban areas. Trump similarly focused his legal challenges on urban areas with large Black populations in his election challenges in Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

"Laxalt is arguing there was only voter fraud in urban areas with Democratic voters," Andy Orellana, a spokesman for the Nevada Democratic Victory campaign, said in a statement, "showing there is truly no bottom for this cynical, failed politician."

Laxalt, who is the grandson of former Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt and the son of former New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, served one term as the state's attorney general before losing his bid for governor.

Laxalt held a fundraiser with Trump last month at Mar-a-Lago and has also sought to downplay the Capitol riot. He told the Associated Press in February that he believes "very few" people who broke laws that day should be prosecuted, accusing Democrats and the media of overhyping the insurrection.

"What the media and their left-wing allies have done to weaponize this against Republicans and Trump voters is reprehensible," he said. "This issue is not in the top 100 of issues that matter to ordinary Nevadans. Voters will not be fooled by this in November 2022."

Although Laxalt has largely tried to avoid discussing the Capitol riot in public comments, he has described Jan. 6, 2021, as a dark day — because that was the day Donald Trump's Twitter account was banned.

In a September interview with former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn on his podcast, Laxalt referred to Jan. 6 as "that fateful day in January when they pulled him off of social media and pulled him off of Twitter. People felt that in their stomach: 'Oh my god, they can cancel a former president of the United States.'"

Marcus-Blank, a spokesperson for Masto's campaign, criticized Laxalt for "downplaying" the Jan. 6 attack, calling him "Trump's top lackey in Nevada," and saying he helped "spread the Big Lie that fueled the violent Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and law enforcement." The statement concluded by describing Laxalt as "a sleazy, corrupt politician who will do anything to stay in Trump's good graces."

Read more on the GOP and "voter fraud":

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

MORE FROM Igor Derysh

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Adam Laxalt Big Lie Catherine Cortez Masto Donald Trump Elections Nevada Politics Reporting Voter Fraud