LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Republican from a political dynasty and a powerful Las Vegas-area politician hoping to become Nevada’s first Democratic governor in two decades are in a tight race for the state’s top office Tuesday.
Like many races in the battleground state of 3 million people, the contest between Republican Adam Laxalt and Democrat Steve Sisolak is close, and the stakes are high.
The next governor will shape Nevada’s political landscape for a decade, having veto power over legislative and congressional maps drawn after the 2020 Census.
That’s brought added interest from groups like the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, backed by former President Barack Obama and his former Attorney General Eric Holder.
Obama and Holder have made visits to tout Sisolak’s candidacy, while Laxalt has strong backing from President Donald Trump. And billionaires like California liberal Tom Steyer, Republican casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and the conservative Koch brothers have all picked a side.
The state’s outgoing Gov. Brian Sandoval, a moderate Republican, has stayed out of the fray. He declined to endorse Laxalt, who said he wants to repeal a commerce tax on businesses that Sandoval pushed through in 2015 to boost public education by millions.
Even members of Laxalt’s prominent family are divided on the race.
Last month, a dozen members of the Laxalt family authored an opinion column in the Reno Gazette Journal declaring their relative to be the wrong choice for governor. A day later, 22 supportive family members responded with their own column.
Laxalt, who was first elected to office in 2014, is the son of former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico and the grandson of former Nevada governor and U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt, a figure who looms large in Nevada politics
The central theme of the Republican’s campaign has been a promise to keep the state from resembling its liberal neighbor California by opposing higher taxes and more regulations.
“What would Nevada look like if my opponent becomes governor of this state?” Laxalt asked attendees last weekend at a Carson City rally with Vice President Mike Pence.
The crowd responded: “California!”
Sisolak, his opponent, chairs the Clark County Commission overseeing the Las Vegas Strip and became a visible figure following last year’s mass shooting at a country music festival. He also played a key role in the plan to build a new NFL stadium in Las Vegas for the Oakland Raiders that’s funded by a hotel room tax.
He’s also has pledged to stand up to Trump and the National Rifle Association while defending Planned Parenthood and the state’s Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
Laxalt has NRA backing, has said he opposed the state’s Medicaid expansion and would look to add work requirements to it, and has had his office file legal briefs supporting abortion restrictions in other states.
“Adam Laxalt used the office of the attorney general to eliminate women’s reproductive rights across this country,” Sisolak said at a rally last month. “And he’s been silent as his buddies in the Trump administration erode our families’ access to health care.”
Sisolak’s campaign has backing from former longtime U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and the Democratic political machine that Reid built, which has meticulously tracked Laxalt’s moves and missteps.
In turn, Laxalt’s campaign coined a Trump-esque nickname for Sisolak, “Shady Steve,” and launched their own website detailing votes he cast that benefited donors and allies.
Democrats on Tuesday will be counting on Sisolak’s Clark County base and enough Democratic support in the Reno area to pull off a win, while Republicans will be counting on Laxalt’s appeal to conservatives and northern Nevadans.
One wild card will be independent candidate Ryan Bundy, the son of rancher Cliven Bundy who was involved in two armed standoffs with federal agents. Ryan Bundy’s appeal to the state’s rural residents and ranchers could siphon off enough votes from Laxalt to make a difference in the tight race.
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