Trump keeps GOP guessing on Nevada Senate endorsement

Former President Trump is keeping Nevada Republicans on their toes as they await a potential endorsement in the state’s all-important Senate race.

The former president hasn’t weighed in despite the primary taking place Tuesday. Republicans see the race for the party’s nomination coming down to two candidates: Retired Army Capt. Sam Brown, who has been leading in polls, and former Ambassador to Iceland Jeff Gunter.

Nevada remains the last state where Trump has yet to make an endorsement in a competitive Senate GOP primary. Trump is expected to attend a fundraiser Saturday in the Silver State and hold a rally Sunday in Las Vegas, where he could make a last-minute pick — handing one of the Republicans a critical boost as they look toward a possible uphill battle against Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) in the fall.

Some Republicans aren’t reading too much into the lack of an endorsement, saying Brown looks poised to win Tuesday.

“I don’t think it’s one that [Trump] needed to wade into,” said Zachary Moyle, a former executive director for the Nevada GOP. “I think Sam Brown is well ahead. I don’t think it’s ever been close, and I think because of that, there’s just no need to do it.”

Moyle suggested that if Trump were to endorse Brown, there was also the risk of angering two Republican candidates who are loyal to Trump: Gunter and former state Assemblyman Jim Marchant (R), who is also running for the seat and has denied the results of the 2020 election.

“One of the things that Republicans continue to do is eat their own and alienate themselves, and I think that’s something that you don’t want to risk in something as massive as a race like this,” Moyle said.

“I look at it as a very smart, strategic move by Trump not to get involved in a race that there’s no benefit to being involved in,” he added.

Longtime Nevada GOP strategist Chuck Muth predicted Trump may stay out of the race altogether to avoid the possibility of endorsing a candidate who loses the primary.

“I don’t think anybody can guess what goes into Trump’s decision-making on things like this, but clearly anybody in his position has got to take a serious look at whether or not endorsing a particular candidate, whether that candidate has a legitimate shot to actually win,” Muth said. “And nobody wants to be on record endorsing candidates who lose. I think that may be the holdup.”

Trump’s endorsements have held significant cache in recent years, especially in contested primaries. He backed former football star Herschel Walker in Georgia last cycle, celebrity heart surgeon Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Sen. JD Vance (R) in Ohio and former local news anchor Kari Lake in Arizona.

But many of his endorsees in the November 2022 midterms lost their general elections because they were dogged by negative headlines, delivering a major blow to Trump and Republicans.

While Trump has waded into some primaries this cycle ahead of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the two have largely been aligned on which candidates to back.

The former president backed businessman Bernie Moreno in the crowded Ohio Senate GOP primary, while the NRSC stayed out. Trump also endorsed former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) in the GOP contest for the open Michigan Senate seat and backed former Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy in Montana when Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) flirted with a Senate run.

Still, Trump’s absence from the Nevada race is notable. On Tuesday, he issued a post on Truth Social encouraging Nevadans to get out and vote — but didn’t say for whom.

It’s unclear if Trump will make an endorsement this weekend, though some Republicans seem hopeful he will.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), the chair of the NRSC, told Politico earlier this week he believed Trump would endorse Brown. NRSC spokesman Mike Berg noted in a statement to Politico, however, that “President Trump hasn’t made a commitment on that front.”

The Gunter campaign confirmed to The Hill the former ambassador would attend the Saturday fundraiser hosted by Don Ahern, who has thrown his weight behind Gunter, as well as the Sunday rally. Brown campaign spokesperson Kristy Wilkinson also confirmed Brown would attend the rally.

Both candidates have made no secret they’d love an endorsement from the former president.

“I supported President Trump in 2016 and knocked doors for him in 2020,” Brown said in a statement. “I’ve always believed in his vision for America and I continue to stand by him today. I look forward to working with President Trump to win Nevada this November and would be honored to receive his endorsement.”

Brown reportedly traveled to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida last month to personally request an endorsement, according to CNN.

Meanwhile, Gunter projected confidence over his viability in a statement.

“Despite corrupt and coordinated attempts to deceive President Trump, we remain confident that he now has the real data, understands why the base is vehemently against Brown, and that we can absolutely win this race — we look forward to welcoming him to the Silver State and joining him on Saturday and Sunday,” Gunter said.

The race to unseat Rosen is set to be one of the closest in the country as Democrats hope to hold on to their razor-thin majority. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) narrowly won her reelection in 2022 against Republican Adam Laxalt by less than a percentage point, delivering Democrats control of the upper chamber.

Jessica Taylor, Senate and governors editor for the nonpartisan election handicapper Cook Political Report, wrote in an analysis this week that the retired Army captain was “in the driver’s seat” in the Republican contest to take on Rosen, noting polling showing Brown ahead of his competitors, an inspector general report from the State Department that suggested Gunter had a controversial stint as ambassador to Iceland and data from AdImpact showing Gunter cutting his ad buy.

Gunter’s campaign argued in an interview with Fox that his team is reallocating resources elsewhere for Spanish and digital advertising and wasn’t cutting ads.

Brown has faced his own attacks, with Gunter hitting Brown on air with claims that he isn’t a real supporter of the former president and rolling out an ad blitz last month branding himself “110 percent pro-Trump.” In an ad campaign last year, Gunter labeled his opponent “Never Trump Sam Brown.”

Brown showed hesitancy to be seen close to Trump early in the campaign, holding off on endorsing the former president until just before the Iowa caucuses. But he has changed his rhetoric as the primary has drawn closer and he looks to appeal to both moderate Republicans and independents along with the GOP base.

A recent internal poll from Gunter’s campaign conducted by Kaplan Strategies suggested Brown and Gunter were tied, though other polling has shown the retired Army captain firmly in the lead. A Noble Predictive Insights poll released Friday showed Brown ahead of Gunter 50 percent to 15 percent.

With the GOP primary drawing near, some Republicans think a last-minute endorsement for Gunter may not even be worth it, given early voting already started.

“If Trump were to endorse Gunter on Sunday it would surely help, but it may be too little too late,” Muth said. “We’ve got so many ballots that have already been cast. They can’t take it back now.”

Despite some of the swipes, Republicans think their party is poised to regroup and stay on the same page heading into November.

“Republicans are smarter than that,” said GOP strategist Jeremy Hughes, who has done work in Nevada, when asked if some of Gunter’s swipes could impact Brown’s standing among the GOP base in November.

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