- Associated Press - Thursday, August 13, 2015

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt said he hopes his Basque-themed gathering of Republican presidential candidates this weekend will become a can’t-miss campaign tradition that turns the course of elections and spawns copycat events throughout the Silver State.

The guest list for the inaugural Basque Fry that Laxalt is hosting on Saturday at a ranch in Gardnerville includes White House hopefuls Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and George Pataki. Candidates who wow the crowd of about 1,500 could set themselves up for success in Nevada, which holds an influential early position as the fourth state to cast votes in a presidential primary or caucus.

“Winning Nevada would be a great momentum for this long slog. It’s very doable,” he said in an interview. “A handful of visits in this state can swing this state.”

The event is modeled after similar gatherings in early vote states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, such as the Harkin Steak Fry that has attracted top-tier Democratic candidates for four decades in Iowa.

Laxalt said that priced at $35 per person or $50 for a couple, the Basque Fry isn’t meant to raise money and will not include a fundraising pitch.

The goal, according to co-presenter and Republican state Sen. James Settelmeyer, is that “we can find out how they feel, or more importantly, that (candidates) can know how we feel, on certain issues that are important to the West.”

The event carries on a tradition from Laxalt’s Basque grandfather, former Nevada governor and Sen. Paul Laxalt, who held similar barbecues for 30 years in Nevada and Washington. Guests included President Ronald Reagan.

“Once he had the first one, everyone wanted to be invited to the next one when they heard about how authentically Western it was and how authentically Basque it was,” Laxalt said.

The event can’t hurt in establishing the younger Laxalt, 36, as a central player among Nevada Republicans. While his family is politically well-connected, Laxalt was virtually unknown until he upset Democratic former Secretary of State Ross Miller in the 2014 race for attorney general.

Saturday’s shindig, catered by local favorite J.T. Basque Restaurant, will feature chorizo, Basque beans, Basque stew and wine. It will also boast a delicacy not for the faint of heart: lamb fries, or fried lamb testicles.

That’s in addition to other folksy touches, including Basque dancing, a country band and souvenir bota bags, which were traditionally used to carry wine.

Nevada Democrats have jabbed at the event, dubbing it a “cattle call” and scheduling a press conference Friday to highlight what they call “the disastrous records” of the candidates scheduled to attend.

“It’s clear that all of the Republican candidates would be a disaster for the middle class,” the party said in a news release.

Laxalt, who has brought a staunchly conservative philosophy to his first year in office and said the country needs to change course after two terms under President Barack Obama’s leadership, said voters deserved to cast their vote based on more than just TV ads or crowded debates.

“People should be engaged,” he said. “I think Democrats and Republicans would probably both say this is a pivotal election.”

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