GARDNERVILLE, Nev. -- U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton told a crowd of about 4,000 Republicans that former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt plans to run for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.
He and other Republican luminaries revved up a crowd gathered at a rural Nevada cattle ranch Saturday, reminding them that the path to wresting back the U.S. Senate in next year's midterms could hinge on Nevada.
Sweltering sun and wildfire smoke obscuring the nearby mountains did little to blunt the energy of conservative activists at Laxalt's 6th annual Basque Fry, an event modeled after cookouts hosted by the former Nevada Attorney General's grandfather, U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt -- the son of a Basque immigrant sheepherder.
The event is increasingly becoming a key stop on the early presidential primary circuit, drawing rising stars hoping to strengthen their name recognition and endear themselves to voters through sampling the local fare. Unlike the pork chops and corn cobs of the Iowa State Fair, the cuisine at the Basque Fry includes beans, chorizo and -- for those daring enough -- the event's signature fried lamb testicles.
Politicians including Cotton, U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei and former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller traded suits and ties for cowboy boots and Levis, traversing the ranch and meeting activists sporting T-shirts that read "Fauci lied" and "Trump DeSantis 2024."
Cotton compared Nevada to Arizona, Georgia and New Hampshire and said, with Adam Laxalt as a candidate, it was perhaps the Republicans' best chance to flip a U.S. Senate seat. Laxalt has not yet announced plans to run for office.
"Adam, I guess he's not supposed to say that he's going to be your next United States Senator. There's some campaign finance rules against it. But what do I care about some stupid rules like that? Adam Laxalt is going to the United States Senate for the Battle Born state in 2022," Cotton said.
Cotton called Masto too in-step with party leadership to represent a swing state like Nevada and said taking back the U.S. Senate would allow Republicans to contain China's growing geopolitical power, secure the U.S.-Mexico border and prevent "critical race theory" from being taught in schools.
"Nevada is a pretty evenly divided state, and she has voted for the Biden-Schumer agenda straight down the line," Cotton said.
In Nevada, Democrats currently hold the governorship, both U.S. Senate seats and majorities in both state legislative chambers. But it's still very much a swing state, both parties say. Biden defeated former President Donald Trump by 2.4 percentage points in the 2020 election and the past two races to represent the state in the U.S. Senate have been decided by less than five percentage points.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, this year's event's marquee speaker, canceled his in-person appearance Friday because of a possible tropical storm in the U.S. southeast. The audience heard his video message, in which he claimed to be "living rent-free in Joe Biden's head" and encouraged Laxalt to run for Senate.
Both DeSantis and Cotton are rumored to be mulling presidential bids. But the path to the nomination depends largely on whether Trump intends to enter the race.
Andy Orellana, the spokesperson for the Nevada Democratic Victory group working to re-elect Masto, painted Laxalt as extreme, dishonest and said, if he runs, wouldn't focus on Nevada issues.
"Adam Laxalt has never been honest with Nevadans -- not as Attorney General, when he used his elected office to benefit his special interest donors, and not as Trump's main lackey in Nevada, when he used his platform to spread the Big Lie and try to overturn the 2020 election," he said. "Today's announcement shows that he is still just focused on his D.C. allies and Trump, not Nevada."