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Trump endorsement question hangs over Nevada Senate race

Brown has backing from NRSC, but Gunter served in Trump administration

Being former President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Iceland wasn’t enough for Jeff Gunter to earn Trump's endorsement, as he went on to lose the GOP Senate primary in Nevada.
Being former President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Iceland wasn’t enough for Jeff Gunter to earn Trump's endorsement, as he went on to lose the GOP Senate primary in Nevada. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

BOULDER CITY, Nev. — Former Army Capt. Sam Brown is heavily favored in the Nevada GOP Senate primary to take on Democratic incumbent Sen. Jacky Rosen, but one wild card remains: Donald Trump.

Republican primary voters are already casting early ballots across Nevada, but the question of whether the former president will make an endorsement in the state’s must-watch Senate contest still hangs over the race.

Jeff Gunter, a dermatologist who served as Trump’s ambassador to Iceland, has been making the case that he is the best candidate for the former president’s backers, running TV ads describing himself as “110 percent pro-Trump.”

“As President Trump’s former U.S. ambassador and part of the administration, what I found is that President Trump always makes the right decision,” Gunter said in a Monday interview.

Trump is scheduled to be in Las Vegas for a June 8 fundraiser hosted by Gunter supporter Don Ahern, a wealthy local businessman whose portfolio includes the Ahern hotel and convention center.

The timing of the former president’s appearance is a bit curious. The presidential nominating contests in Nevada took place months ago, but for state and other federal offices the in-person early voting window opened May 25 and closes June 7, with primary election day on June 11.

The former president’s 2024 campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment about a possible endorsement in the Nevada Senate race.

Asked what his message is to supporters who may be reluctant to cast early ballots, Gunter referenced the slogan of the Trump administration and often Republican energy policy.

“I support President Trump and President Trump wants you to go out and vote,” Gunter said. “It’s [an] all-of-the-above policy, that you can vote early, you can vote mail-in, vote on the day — but we want you to go in and we want you to vote.”

Brown, who also sought the Republican nomination for Senate in 2022, is the clear favorite, with a Brown internal poll that the Nevada Independent reported on last week showing the National Republican Senatorial Committee-backed candidate ahead by some 38 points.

Brown, who last cycle campaigned as an outsider who said he didn’t trust Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, raised $5.4 million to Gunter’s $3.3 million through March 31, but he also spent more had about $260,000 less than Gunter in his campaign account when the quarter ending, reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show.

Gunter, whose personal financial disclosure statement lists six assets worth between $1 million and $5 million and three more worth between $5 million and $25 million, has opened his checkbook for the race, loaning his campaign more than $2.7 million already.

Gunter’s campaign has been running an ad tying Brown to establishment Republicans, calling him “the newest creature to emerge from the swamp,” but imagery appearing to emphasize Brown’s scarring from burns suffered while in the military drew rebukes from the frontrunner’s supporters.

“It is absolutely disgusting that former Democrat Jeff Gunter is mocking the wounds of a veteran who was injured while serving our country,” Mike Berg, the NRSC communications director, told Fox News Digital after the Gunter ad appeared.

Both Brown and Gunter spent Memorial Day attending services honoring deceased service members. Brown was at a veterans cemetery in northern Nevada, while Gunter was here at the cemetery in southern Nevada.

Brown, who is a Purple Heart recipient, talked about Memorial Day in an interview with KTVN in Reno.

“On a day that so many of us, you know, recognize as an opportunity to get together with friends and with family and … to have a good time, there’s also other families out there who’ve lost loved ones, and it’s a day of remembrance. It’s a day of bitterness and sorrow for those families,” Brown said. “And so, all of us as Americans need to take a moment, take some time to remember that sacrifice.”

Gunter, speaking with Roll Call while touring the memorials at the cemetery ahead of the formal ceremony, said “look around here,” gesturing in the direction of rows and rows of small American flags that had been placed on the graves of deceased servicemembers. “All those who have given so much for all of us so we can live free tells you that freedom is not free.”

It was also possible to honor Memorial Day by taking part in the Democratic process Monday, with a limited number of early voting sites open on the federal holiday.

In Henderson, some voters were turning in their ballots in drop boxes or casting early in-person votes at a local shopping mall, just outside the entrance to a Kohl’s department store. But some passersby could be overheard saying they did not realize that primary voting had already begun.

Several other names also appear on the GOP primary ballot, the most notable being perennial candidate Jim Marchant, who previously ran for Congress and for secretary of state and is known for his denial of election results. Brown, Gunter and Marchant all endorsed Trump’s 2024 presidential bid.

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