Immediately after a top Nevada Republican and “Big Lie” proponent was caught delivering conflicting messages about election integrity to urban and rural voters, he did it again — this time talking about mail-in ballots.
Former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the state’s leading Republican U.S. Senate candidate, told voters from a Las Vegas suburb last Friday that mail-in ballots and ballot drop boxes aren’t secure, echoing the false claim made frequently by former President Donald Trump.
“Those are not safe methods of voting, and for saying just that — and those are uncontroversial statements — I’m on “Morning Joe” this morning, and they’re attacking me,” he said, according to media reports out of Clark County, a Democratic part of the state that Laxalt has pinpointed as an alleged hotspot for voter fraud. “I’m on MSNBC last night.”
He told voters at that event that he wanted to repeal voting by mail and drop boxes.
Then later that day — and some 70 miles away — Laxalt did an about-face, encouraging voters at Nevada Treasure RV Resort in rural Nye County to get their neighbors to vote by mail against his opponent, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.
“Because they do have mail-in balloting, even though it’s not the best system, if you have a neighbor that may vote with a mail ballot, you can reach that, reach that neighbor and go convince them to be involved,” he said in a new audio recording of a campaign event in Pahrump, Nevada, shared with HuffPost.
In 2020, Trump won 69% of the vote in Nye County, with almost 90% of voters casting their ballots either by mail or early voting, proving it can be a successful strategy for Republicans.
It’s the latest example of Laxalt’s deliberate threading of the needle to promote the Trump base’s false narrative about voter fraud while also reassuring them their votes are special — and that it’s actually fine to take advantage of secure voting methods designed to increase voter participation.
Republicans in competitive primaries are having to swear by what Trump critics and Democrats have dubbed the “Big Lie,” the bogus idea that Trump lost the election due to widespread voter fraud. That’s despite the fact that GOP officials have pointed out that Trump’s claims about election fraud and mail-in balloting cost them the White House and U.S. Senate because they encouraged Republicans to stay home.
In Wisconsin, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson raised concerns about elections in Milwaukee but praised how they’re run in rural areas, another example of Republicans saying one thing in urban counties and another thing everywhere else.
After spending the last year casting doubt on the 2020 election results, Laxalt reportedly told GOP voters at rural campaign events this month to feel confident that elections are “legitimate” and “your votes are going to matter,” NBC News reported last week.
“The votes are being counted in Elko County. These elections here are legitimate,” Laxalt told voters in a deep red, rural county, NBC reported. “Clark County? We got major problems down there. And we’ve got to fight that.”
Laxalt, Trump’s former campaign co-chair in his state, pursued numerous legal battles to overturn the election results in Nevada, none of them successful. Trump lost Nevada to President Joe Biden by more than 2 percentage points in 2020, roughly the same margin he lost by four years earlier.
Laxalt hasn’t said whether, as a senator, he would vote to certify the results of the next presidential election, and has signaled a willingness to challenge the results of his own race if he loses.
Nevada legislators codified pandemic-era voting expansions last summer, a move panned by Republicans. Under the law, every active registered voter will automatically be mailed a ballot unless they opt out, and third parties are allowed to collect and turn in absentee ballots.
In a statement to HuffPost Friday, Laxalt downplayed any election issues outside Nevada’s largest county.
“Unlike the rest of our state where we saw minimal issues, Clark County remains problematic because of the reckless actions by Nevada Democrats in 2020. Without a single Republican vote, Democrats radically changed the election rules within the final stretch of the campaign that year, and many voters lost confidence in the system as a result,” Laxalt said.
“Everyone knows there was fraud, but not a single Nevadan can say how much.”
Perhaps because there were hardly any confirmed examples of it.
Republicans have been unable to uncover evidence of widespread voter fraud that they claim cost Trump another term. The Nevada GOP flagged 4,000 cases of alleged voter fraud in the 2020 election, but the secretary of state only identified a handful of probable cases in the bunch.
In a strange turn of events, the one person convicted of voter fraud in the state was a Republican, Donald Hartle, who had claimed someone voted using his ex-wife’s name. Republicans cited the case as an example of ballot fraud involving dead people’s identities. Prosecutors later determined Hartle was responsible for casting the illegal vote.
Nevada, a swing state, is a top battleground for control of the U.S. Senate. Republicans see Cortez Masto as a vulnerable incumbent, while a recent poll showed her leading Laxalt in a general election matchup.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Adam Laxalt had appeared at an in-person event with Donald Hartle.