Democrat makes youth-focused pitch in Nevada governor's race

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HENDERSON, Nevada (AP) — As he faces a battle for the Nevada governor's mansion, Democrat Steve Sisolak made an education and school safety-focused pitch Friday to a group of high school students, the kind of message those on the left hope will resonate with energized young voters.

Over a pizza lunch inside the library at a suburban high school in Henderson, Sisolak appeared with the chair of the Democratic Governors Association, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who declared the Nevada race the top priority for Democrats looking for flip control of governor's mansions in this year's midterm elections.

Sisolak, the chairman of the Clark County Commission, spoke about education funding, school safety and gun violence and repeatedly the asked the teenagers whether they were old enough to vote, were registered and whether they planned to vote.

The two also criticized Sisolak's opponent, Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt, while making recurring references to the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team.

Sisolak's race is one of about half a dozen gubernatorial contests where Democrats are hoping to take over from Republicans. While Nevada is a swing state that's been running blue in recent years, it hasn't elected a Democratic governor in roughly two decades.

Sisolak holds a powerful role in the Las Vegas-area, but he's still introducing himself to the rest of the state.

Laxalt is popular on the right and comes from a political family that includes former U.S. Sen. and Nevada Gov. Paul Laxalt, his grandfather. Adam Laxalt has also already proven his ability to win statewide, eking out a victory in the 2014 attorney general race by less than 5,000 votes.

Democrats are hoping that students and youth who've become politically active in the "March for Our Lives," movement will give them an edge. They're being helped by groups like California billionaire Tom Steyer's organization, NextGen America, which is working in at least 10 states this year, including Nevada, to mobilize young people.

"We have seen an unprecedented energy from the smartest generation, which are the young folks in our country," Inslee told reporters. "That is a very good thing for the nation and the very good thing for the Democratic Party."

Laxalt, 39, has pitched himself to young people at career and technical schools, according to his campaign, and has released a law enforcement-focused study of how to make schools safer.

He's faced criticism from Democrats and gun control activists for backing from the National Rifle Association and has been blamed, along with Gov. Brian Sandoval, for not enacting a gun background check initiative that voters approved in 2016. It would turn over to the FBI the responsibility for vetting gun buyers during private gun sales. Sandoval and Laxalt say that a state gun-buyer screening program is more complete, and that the FBI has refused to take the job.

Sisolak, 64, spoke to the teenagers Friday about the recent anniversary of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and spoke of his hope to combat school shootings with better surveillance systems, better police response time and perhaps sophisticated security systems.

He didn't have details on the proposals' costs and how they'd be paid for, saying local governments would need to play a role.

"You can't eat an elephant in one bite," he said.

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