Nevada G.O.P. Senate primary heats up as the long shot goes after the front-runner.

Nevada G.O.P. Senate primary heats up as the long shot goes after the front-runner.

Nevada’s once-sleepy Republican primary for Senate, which has been dominated by Sam Brown, a U.S. Army veteran, was jolted to life in the past week, when a deep-pocketed rival took aim at the front-runner.

Jeff Gunter, the ambassador to Iceland under former President Donald J. Trump, is unloading a $3.3 million advertising campaign with a MAGA message, according to his campaign, hoping to cut into Mr. Brown’s dominant lead over the crowded field.

A television ad from Mr. Gunter that began airing on Wednesday called Mr. Brown “the newest creature to emerge from the swamp,” tying him to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, and deriding his primary opponent as “Scam Brown.”

Mr. Brown, a veteran who was wounded severely in Afghanistan in 2008, consolidated party support after entering the primary last July, earned the endorsement of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and has appeared at fund-raisers around the country with prominent Republicans. He has lapped his competitors in fund-raising, pulling in $2.4 million in the most recent quarter, according to fund-raising reports.

Mr. Brown has sought to employ the Trump campaign handbook, skipping debates and focusing his attention on Senator Jacky Rosen, the Democratic incumbent, rather than on his Republican rivals.

That changed on Thursday, when Mr. Brown appeared to address Mr. Gunter for the first time, at a private fund-raising event in Sparks, Nev., after Mr. Gunter accused him in ads and appearances of being disingenuous and not sufficiently pro-Trump.

“You might hear some noise out there, and people who show up from places like California from seven months ago, who want to name-call me this or that,” Mr. Brown told attendees, according to a recording obtained by The New York Times. “And that’s going to happen and we expect that out of people who were literally Democrats a year ago, to play that sort of game. But just keep your head down. You know who I am.”

His comments appeared to be focused on Mr. Gunter, a wealthy dermatologist and recent transplant from California who used to be a registered Democrat.

A group backing Mr. Brown’s campaign, the Duty First PAC, ran its first television ad this week since last year, a $322,000 reservation, according to the tracking firm AdImpact. Mr. Brown’s campaign declined to comment on Mr. Gunter

Mike Berg, a spokesman for the N.R.S.C., suggested that Mr. Gunter’s previous party affiliation and residence would be an issue for Republican voters.

“California Democrats typically support policies like defunding the police, opening our southern border and letting violent criminals out of prison, so it would be surprising if Gunter caught on in a Republican primary,” Mr. Berg said.

Mr. Brown remains the strong favorite to win the June 11 primary. A recent poll commissioned by the N.R.S.C. and Mr. Brown’s campaign and conducted by the Tarrance Group, a Republican firm, found 58 percent of like primary voters supporting Mr. Brown, while Mr. Gunter was in fourth place with 3.2 percent.

“I still think it’s Sam Brown’s race to lose,” said Chuck Muth, a Las Vegas-based conservative political consultant. The one thing that could sway the race, Mr. Muth said, would be if Mr. Gunter could earn the endorsement of Mr. Trump, who has not yet weighed in on the primary.

Mr. Trump made several posts seeming to express his approval for Mr. Brown on Truth Social, his social media platform, this month. “Democrats are terrified of a united Trump-Brown ticket in Nevada!” one read.

In an interview, Mr. Gunter acknowledged that the N.R.S.C. had tried to dissuade him from running, and he criticized Mr. Brown, arguing that he had little to point to as far as experience or expertise other than his time in the military.

“I salute his patriotism, he served his country, he was wounded in battle. But aside from those things, he’s basically a three-time loser,” Mr. Gunter said, citing Mr. Brown’s failed bid for the Texas State House when he lived in Dallas in 2014 and his loss in the 2022 Nevada Senate primary. (Mr. Brown also explored, but eventually dropped, a run for the Nevada State Assembly.)

Mr. Gunter, who is largely self-funding his effort and lent his campaign $2.7 million last quarter, faces his own challenges in his run. Aside from his previous record as a California Democrat — he says that he now lives in Nevada, and that “the Democrat party left me” — his tenure as ambassador to Iceland has been heavily scrutinized. A 2021 report from the Office of Inspector General found that he had fostered a “threatening and intimidating environment” at the embassy. Reporting from CBS detailed his seemingly erratic behavior, including his attempts to work remotely from California during the beginning of the pandemic.

Mr. Gunter said he was “running that place like clockwork,” and that the government report was “bogus.”

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