NV GOP Senate primary: Gunter attacks Brown, Brown woos Trump

By: - April 26, 2024 5:58 am

Brown has fundraised twice as much as the other 10 Republicans in his primary race combined. (Photo: Sam Brown campaign)

Former President Donald Trump has endorsed candidates in all but one of this year’s competitive U.S. Senate races, leaving an opening for a mostly self-funded dark horse candidate to make a home stretch push to secure the Republican nomination and take on Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen in November.

Nevada’s 2024 GOP Senate primary is theoretically crowded with 11 candidates, but retired Army Capt. Sam Brown has been the assumed frontrunner since announcing his intent to run roughly a year ago. Brown has the backing of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, as well as Americans for Prosperity, which is already running ads supporting him.

Brown has fundraised twice as much as the other 10 Republicans in his primary race combined. He has raised $5.3 million and had $2.3 million cash on hand as of March 31, according to FEC filings. In a distant second is Jeff Gunter, a wealthy dermatologist and former Trump ambassador to Iceland. Gunter has raised $551,000 in contributions but loaned his campaign $2.7 million.

Gunter describes himself as “110% pro-Trump” and has the backing of notable MAGA loyalists like U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida and far-right activist Laura Loomer. Thanks in large part to his own deep pockets, Gunter appears to be the candidate with the best chance of upsetting Brown.

Virulent election denier Jim Marchant and retired Air Force Lt. Col. Tony Grady have raised $392,000 and $227,000, respectively. The other contenders — Stephanie Phillips, Barry Lindemann, Ronda Kennedy, and William Bryan Conrad — all raised less than $100,000.

Brown has the backing of Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo, whose popularity is expected to help candidates on the ballot this year.

But what Brown doesn’t have — yet, anyway — is a Trump endorsement.

That sets Nevada’s race apart from other competitive states. In Arizona, outspoken election denier Kari Lake kicked off her campaign in October with an endorsement announcement from Trump, who’d previously backed her during her failed 2022 gubernatorial run. In Montana, Trump endorsed businessman Tim Sheehy hours after Matt Rosendale filed for the race. And in Ohio, a Trump endorsement helped businessman Bernie Moreno win in a highly competitive primary. Trump announced that endorsement on Dec. 20, roughly three months before voters headed to the polls.

Trump has also endorsed Senate candidates in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

It’s unclear if Trump will endorse anyone in Nevada’s GOP Senate primary. If he doesn’t, it appears it will not be for a lack of trying. Brown visited Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort earlier this month in an attempt to secure an endorsement, according to CNN, which also reported that some in Trump’s circle are pushing him to endorse Gunter.

Screenshot of a post on former President Donald Trump’s Truth Social account.

Days after that Brown visit, Trump did, on his Truth Social account, share an image that suggests an alignment with Brown. “WIN NEVADA, SAVE AMERICA, VICTORY THROUGH A UNITED AMERICA FIRST TICKET” reads the top of the image, which also highlights polls showing Trump and Brown with significant polling leads over their competitors.

Voting in Nevada’s June 11 primary has already begun in earnest through its remote voting system, which is open to military, overseas, tribal and disabled voters. Election administrators have until May 22 to distribute mail ballots to all voters, though some are likely to receive them ahead of that deadline. The state’s two-week in-person early voting period runs from May 25 to June 7.

Trump is expected to be in Las Vegas on June 8 for a private fundraiser.

Gunter began airing political ads on April 12, according to AdImpact, which reported his campaign had reserved $654,000 worth of ads across tv, satellite and radio through primary election day. Gunter told Fox News he would launch a $3.3 million ad campaign.

One of Gunter’s ads highlights his connection to Trump, who in 2019 nominated him to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Iceland.

“When the stakes were high, Trump chose Gunter to represent the USA,” says the narrator of the ad.

Another Gunter ad, which is posted to his YouTube channel, attacks the GOP Senate primary frontrunner, referring to him as “Scam Brown” and calling him “the newest creature to emerge from the swamp” while showing closeup photos of the Purple Heart recipient’s face, which was scarred by combat injuries received in 2008 in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Brown’s campaign is almost entirely focused on Rosen and the general election in November. Earlier in the campaign cycle, he declined invites to debates with his Republican competitors.

The New York Times reported that, after the Gunter ads began airing, Brown appeared to acknowledge the attacks, saying there are “people who show up from places like California” who “want to name-call me this or that.” Gunter has been criticized for being a registered voter in California as recently as in 2022, though he has said he’s owned land and practiced in Nevada since the 1990s and relocated in 2019. (Brown moved to Nevada in 2018 from Texas, where he ran for office but failed.)

“That’s going to happen and we expect that out of people who were literally Democrats a year ago, to play that sort of game,” the NYT reported Brown as saying. “But just keep your head down. You know who I am.”

Brown will open his “first official campaign office” on Saturday, in Reno.

Whoever wins the GOP Senate primary will face an uphill fundraising battle. Rosen, who is not facing a competitive primary, has raised $19.6 million since taking office in 2019 and has $13.2 million cash on hand as of March 31, according to FEC filings.

Millions more are expected to flood into the state on both sides of the aisle. In 2022, Nevada’s Senate general election between Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican challenger Adam Laxalt — was the third most expensive in the nation, according to AdImpact. It was decided by roughly 8,000 votes.

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist and deputy editor of Nevada Current. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, three children and one mutt.

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.