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At Basque Fry, many calls for party unity after bruising GOP primaries

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During an election cycle showcasing widening political divisions between conventional party-line candidates and more radical ones, conservative speakers at the seventh annual Basque Fry event called for a united front heading into the midterms.

Speakers at the Republican fundraiser, which drew an estimated 1,500 people on Saturday outside of Gardnerville, included Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and a host of statewide Republican candidates and well-known GOP figures.

“We’re here because Joe Lombardo needs to be the next governor of Nevada. We’re here because Adam Laxalt needs to make sure that I’m not the only Republican in the federal delegation,” Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) said.

He urged attendees to join the “red team.”

Clark County sheriff and gubernatorial hopeful Joe Lombardo and attorney general candidate Sigal Chattah also attended, along with other Republican candidates running for statewide office. Organizers announced that election denier and secretary of state candidate Jim Marchant and GOP firebrand Michele Fiore — who is making a bid for treasurer — could not attend.

Laxalt launched the annual event in 2015 as a way to highlight his Basque heritage and the shepherding traditions of the group, many of whom emigrated to and settled in Northern Nevada. The event is held at the Corley Ranch south of Gardnerville, a heavily Republican area.

Through its iterations, the Basque Fry has drawn not only local and state Republican figures but also national politicians, eager to boost GOP candidates in historically swingy Nevada while establishing connections ahead of runs for higher office, given Nevada’s status as an early presidential primary state for both major political parties.

The event is run by the political action committee Morning in Nevada, which was previously affiliated with Laxalt before his run for federal office. Its director, state controller candidate and Assemblyman Andy Matthews, emphasized the importance of voting Republican.

“When you go and vote this November, you’ve got to make sure you vote Republican top to bottom, up and down the ticket,” he said. “This is not a year to skip those down-ballot races. This is not a year to select none of the above.”

Captain Sam Brown, who ran against Adam Laxalt in the Nevada GOP Senate primary at the 7th annual Basque Fry at Corley Ranch in Gardnerville, presented by the Morning In Nevada PAC on Aug. 13, 2022. (Photo by David Calvert for KUNR, photo courtesy of KUNR)

Even retired U.S. Army Capt. Sam Brown, who lost to Laxalt in the Senate Republican primary, conveyed the message of unity as he sported a dark blue “Joe Lombardo for Governor” hat.

“The primary was an opportunity to try and distinguish where there may be differences in candidates, but it’s time for us to come together and support one another,” Brown said in an interview with KUNR Public Radio. “We need to just support people who are most closely aligned with us.”

Melissa Clement, executive director of the anti-abortion group Nevada Right to Life, also spoke about the need for party unity to overturn abortion protections in the Silver State.

“We need your help, because we all together are going to save life in Nevada. We’re going to elect Republicans,” Clement said.

Nevada’s abortion protections came through a referendum passed by voters in 1990, which means that only a direct majority vote from the people could overturn them. Though elected officials may not be able to change the law, Clement said voters could do so in the future.

In the meantime, she told the assembled crowd to vote for Republican candidates.

“You’re hearing that all of a sudden, women have no rights. You’re hearing that democracy has fallen, and it has not,” Clement said. “Remember: D is for death. If you just go down with a Republican, that’s always a good choice.”

Clark County Sheriff and Nevada GOP gubernatorial candidate Joe Lombardo speaks at the 7th annual Basque Fry at Corley Ranch in Gardnerville, presented by the Morning In Nevada PAC on Aug. 13, 2022. (Photo by David Calvert for KUNR, photo courtesy of KUNR)

‘Elephant in the room’

Republican gubernatorial candidate Lombardo, who received former President Donald Trump’s coveted endorsement before winning the state’s GOP gubernatorial primary in June, has nonetheless faced a legal challenge from second-place finisher Joey Gilbert, a Reno attorney who sued to overturn the primary results amid unfounded accusations of an algorithm cheating him out of victory. A district court judge dismissed the lawsuit last week over a lack of ‘competent evidence.’

Lombardo addressed the topic and urged attendees to coalesce in support of the party.

“The elephant in the room is, I came out of a contested primary race,” Lombardo said. “No matter who you voted for, we gotta get past that.”

Though Lombardo’s platform is more moderate than those of other statewide candidates, such as secretary of state candidate Jim Marchant, he has publicly cast doubt on the 2020 election’s outcome without outright declaring fraud.

Gilbert did not attend and was in Rochester, New York, as part of his REAWAKEN America tour focused on spreading his false election integrity claims.

A Republican signs up to be a poll watcher during the 7th annual Basque Fry at Corley Ranch in Gardnerville, presented by the Morning In Nevada PAC on Aug. 13, 2022. (Photo by David Calvert for KUNR, photo courtesy of KUNR)

The myth of pervasive election fraud and false accusations of stolen elections were undercurrents in conversations throughout the day.

Right-wing radio host Kurt Schlichter, an election denier, told attendees that in 2020 he came out to fight for what he deemed “election integrity” in Las Vegas — the Trump campaign’s unsuccessful efforts to stop vote counting in majority-Democrat Clark County.

When he arrived, he said Laxalt was leading the charge, and described the former attorney general as “the conservative equivalent of woke.” Schlichter also said the Senate hopeful “knows who our enemies are.”

In an email to KUNR, incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s re-election campaign condemned Laxalt for being what they called “the ‘face of’ the Big Lie in Nevada” and for his hints at legal fights ahead of the 2022 election.

“Adam Laxalt led the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and stop the peaceful transfer of power, and he wants the power to do so this fall if he doesn’t like the election results,” said Cortez Masto’s campaign spokesman, Josh Marcus-Blank. “Laxalt is willing to break the rules, promising to file early lawsuits to help him gain power, because he’s only out for himself, not Nevada.”

In his speech, Schlichter described the upcoming November election as a “fight for the soul of the United States.”

“If we lose in Nevada, we lose everything,” he said. “Get on your feet, get out, get Joe Lombardo into Carson City, get Adam Laxalt into Washington, D.C.”

Sen. Ted Cruz and Nevada GOP Senate nominee Adam Laxalt greet supporters at the 7th annual Basque Fry at Corley Ranch in Gardnerville, presented by the Morning In Nevada PAC on Aug. 13, 2022. (Photo by David Calvert for KUNR, photo courtesy of KUNR)

Messages of unity resonated with Reno resident Kevin Walker. During the primary, Walker voted for Brown instead of Laxalt for Senate, but he said he would support Republican candidates down the ballot in November — no matter what.

“I believe in Republican values. They may not speak for all my values; Sam seemed to have a little more,” Walker said. “I just feel that they’re more for the working class. Democrats used to be that way. Not anymore.”

But enthusiasm for Cruz eclipsed that for Lombardo and Laxalt. The Texas senator was met with vigorous applause when he walked on stage as “Eye of the Tiger” blasted from the speakers, and dozens of attendees crowded against the metal cordons surrounding the main stage to take photos.

Cruz started his speech by reiterating common Republican talking points about the Biden administration.

“If they threw darts at a wall, they’d accidentally get some policy right,” he said, “but everything they touch turns to garbage. You’ve got inflation skyrocketing. [The] cost of homes going through the roof, the cost of electricity, the cost of food, the cost of health care, the cost of gas.”

Overall, inflation declined slightly in July, though prices for some goods and services continued to grow. During recent negotiations over the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 in the U.S. Senate, Cruz joined 42 of his Republican colleagues in opposing insulin price caps for Americans with private health insurance. The act passed along a party-line vote with Senate Republicans in opposition.

Cruz ended his speech on Saturday with a call to action.

“I wanna ask every one of you to come out in Nevada and vote for Adam Laxalt ten times … If you get nine other people to vote who wouldn’t have voted otherwise, you just voted 10 times,” he said. “This is a fight for America, and mark my words, this is a fight. Freedom will win. God bless you.”

During his roughly 24-minute speech, Cruz did not mention Lombardo or the governor’s race.

After he finished, a small crowd swarmed Cruz to take a photo with him and Laxalt. Some chanted, “I love Ted.”

Polling analysis by FiveThirtyEight shows Cortez Masto leading Laxalt 44 percent to nearly 43 percent, indicating a close race in November.

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