GARDNERVILLE, Nev. (AP) - Standing in front of 1,500 Republicans at a rural ranch backdropped by the Sierra Nevada mountains, Nevada's Republican governor candidate Joe Lombardo referenced the "elephant in the room" without naming him.
The second-place finisher in the gubernatorial primary, Reno attorney Joey Gilbert, has baselessly claimed the mathematical counting was off and has continued to attack Lombardo. Lombardo to this point hasn't addressed Gilbert directly, who requested a statewide recount of the results and later filed a lawsuit that was thrown out last week. He didn't say Gilbert's name on Saturday either, but acknowledged "we haven't come together" since the primary.
"No matter who you voted for, we've got to get past that," he said.
At the 7th annual Basque Fry, Republican heavyweights were eager to unite against incumbent Democrats at what has become a yearly tradition held in rural Douglas County. The event, which includes live music, an inflatable rodeo ride and Basque cuisine, is modeled after Adam Laxalt's grandfather and former Nevada governor Paul Laxalt's cookouts. The elder Laxalt was the son of Basque immigrants, and Adam now hosts the event with the Morning in Nevada PAC.
National and state politicians fired up the crowd with a message of urgency 80 days before midterm elections that will decide which party controls both the State House in Carson City and Congress in Washington D.C. Speaking to reporters before he took the state, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called Laxalt's race "the single best pickup opportunity for Republicans."
"Part of the reason is that Adam managed to unify the Republican Party early," Cruz said. "There are all sorts of different slices and flavors of Republicans state by state. And one of the challenges we have in some of the other states is we have candidates who came through pretty rocky primaries, where there's still some bruised feelings."
Some speakers referenced the new IRS agents included in the Inflation Reduction Act as an example of government overreach, though the amount of employees hired from the IRA was often skewed. Others urged attendees to do even more than they had in campaigning and to not take the "Red Wave" for granted.
Several speakers, including Cruz and Laxalt, condemned the search of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home. Laxalt called it an example of "weaponizing the FBI" - a rally cry that many Republican lawmakers have made in the past week to tap into voter outrage.
The main theme centered on unity in often razor-thin races.
"If we lose in Nevada, we lose everything," said conservative author and commentator Kurt Schlichter, who added he was optimistic for the state after seeing Gov. Glenn Youngkin's win in Virginia last November.
Behind the long tents around the stage was a set of smaller tents akin to a farmers market, selling merchandise and offering pamphlets for conservative cause: A "Save our Douglas Schools" tent for county board trustee nominees; Power2Parent tent which advocates for school choice and against sex education; merchandise stands with cowboy hats that say "Trump Won" and "Texans for Trump," alongside "Not my dictator" shirts featuring Joe Biden with a photoshopped Hitler mustache.
Some politicians walked around the tents, interacting with supporters.
The campaign of U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto sent out a statement on Saturday about the event, calling Laxalt the "face of the Big Lie, a reference to when Laxalt spearheaded in Trump's 2020 Nevada campaign and ensuing legal challenges to the vote-counting process.
"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," said spokesperson Josh Marcus-Blank.
Alongside Cruz, headliners included Schlichter, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, among others.
Noem, who gained notoriety among Republicans for bucking federal mandates in the throes of the pandemic, talked about her upbringing in South Dakota, her father's influence on her before he died while she was in college and her philosophy for not adhering to COVID-19 shutdown during 2020. She spoke of the state's zero corporate income tax and 4.5% sales tax.
"This can be your story," she said. "Leadership has consequences."
Laxalt was one of the last to take the stage and reflected on the Basque Fry a year ago, just days before he announced his Senate run. He said the left has since taken over media, big tech and "ruling elites." He talked of surging crime in major cities and what he has often characterized as the border crisis. He called Masto Biden's "rubber stamp" for signing the Inflation Reduction Act and repeated that "the entire US Senate will hinge on this race."
"Whatever you've done to help with politics in the past, do more," he told supporters. "We need you now more than ever."
Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.