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John L. Smith: Adam Laxalt's loss means 'they're just not that into you'

Adam Laxalt

Adam Laxalt

The 2022 midterm election in Nevada was filled with a lot of storylines and plot twists, some of that capturing the attention of the national press.

We're talking about everything from the balance of power in the U.S. Senate, to the election system in Nye County, and of course, the Republican red wave, which did not happen.

And now, the majority of races have been decided and the election is headed for the history books. We have plenty of winners and losers. And John L. Smith has been following a lot of it. He recently shared his thoughts with State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann. 

On what Cortez Masto and Laxalt did right

Now these were really two battering rams of political philosophy, very much polar opposites in their presentation. I think Catherine Cortez Masto had to move through this campaign season with an unpopular president, with rising gas prices, inflation, and a lot of things dragging down the Democrats. But she did some interesting things. She was able to fundraise at a phenomenal level, which always helps because so much of the campaigns are essentially social media and television productions. But beyond that, you saw earlier in the campaign, she made a point of crossing over into the rurals. … I think that helped her image as a person who was willing to kind of cross over party lines and work with Nevadans. She also received some interesting endorsements from Republicans, including members of the Laxalt family. 

As for Laxalt, you have to give him credit, this is a very competitive race. This is a guy who managed somehow to juggle his own kind of embrace of Donald Trump's endorsement. And being a former Trump leader of the 2020 campaign in the state, all of that Trump, which certainly didn't help him with independent voters, he also had an operation that was pretty professionally run through Mitch McConnell's influence. … However, he had a really hard time finding constituencies that he hadn't already tapped. One of those was the outreach that was very noticeable, and I'm not sure how effective, but very noticeable into the Latino community, especially in Southern Nevada. But that's where he's at a big disadvantage, because the Democrats are there … that's a very important voting bloc for them.

On what Laxalt will do now

I'm really not sure that Adam Laxalt, who has a family and who in his concession letter that he floated this week, mentioned the toll that it's taken on them. And the fact is, he ran probably as strong as he's capable of, I'd never seen him all that comfortable on the stump outside of those very enclosed environments, of the kind of all pro-Republican groups. He didn't debate, and there are other things that signal that maybe this is time for him to move on. That's what it appears from the letter that he wrote to his constituents and the public. 

You have that reality of statewide loss that usually signals they're just not that into you. Plus, I think the state's demographics are changing, and they're not favoring his brand of politics. He made a lot of hay with his own backers by calling every Democrat a radical leftist; it's hard to say you're going to move across the aisle to work with everyone if you're an extremist, when in reality, of course, the biggest extremist was the guy who endorsed him this year. I tend to think that he might be going back into the legal profession, in private practice.

On Joe Lombardo's win

… It was very hard to be the incumbent governor of a state that was hit so hard by COVID with its economy, and of course the medical side, so you have that reality. Joe Lombardo was a very well known elected official from Southern Nevada, where most of the votes are. That really helped in that name recognition. … I think that helped him with Republican voters. The other things that helped him, he was endorsed by the former president, but he got to the point where he kind of stared at his shoes when it came time to answer questions about voter fraud issues, and some of those debunked conspiracy theories that are still being floated in some of the corners of the state. So I think he wasn't hit quite as hard on that issue as some of the other super Trumpers in the state. 

On extremists running for office

I think it runs in cycles, quite frankly, I think when people are searching for answers, and the answers are complex, but people basically want someone who can tell them that they have the answers, I think that people are likely to reach out to those extreme ends. I think we'll see it again, the next time the going gets really tough, people will be looking for someone who claims to have those answers I think that's just part of the process. However, I really think also that this election was in many ways a referendum on that kind of extremist politics, especially on the far right, where the conspiracy theory became part of the platform. And that did not go well for people who brought only that, essentially, to the game. I think Nevadans really made that clear, although some races were close, I think the folks who were way over their skis for Donald Trump two years later and were claiming all kinds of mystery votes and all of that, I think that went bad for them.

John L. Smith, contributor, State of Nevada

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.