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An Explosion in Afghanistan Nearly Killed Him. Now, It’s Inspiring His Senate Bid.

Lying in an Afghan desert, engulfed in flames and soaked in diesel fuel, Sam Brown realized he was about to die.

It was September 2008, and Mr. Brown, a U.S. Army captain, had been leading his platoon to the aid of fellow soldiers who had been ambushed by the Taliban. Then, his Humvee struck a roadside bomb. In an explosion of fire and concussive sound, Mr. Brown’s life was forever changed.

“I remember laying there, facedown in the dirt in the Kandahar desert, trying to scoop dirt over myself to smother the flames and having no success, and thinking to myself: How long will it take to burn to death? What happens as I die?” Mr. Brown recalled in an interview with The New York Times. “And then literally making the decision to give up the will to live.”

But he survived. A fellow soldier, also injured in the blast, saved Mr. Brown, and his platoon provided first aid until he could be evacuated to a hospital. At a burn unit in Texas, he underwent more than 30 surgeries over a three-year recovery, and he was left permanently scarred.

Now, Mr. Brown, 40, is the leading Republican seeking to challenge Senator Jacky Rosen, a Democrat, in what is expected to be one of the most competitive Senate races this cycle, with the potential to determine control of the chamber. At campaign stops, Mr. Brown does not dwell on his dramatic history, focusing instead on inflation, which many Nevadans have felt acutely, and on the border. But his experience is a central part of his appeals to supporters as he works to raise the kind of money needed to run a statewide campaign against a well-funded incumbent.

His emails frequently contain lines like “God is real. I almost met Him” and “They blew up my body, but they’ll never destroy my spirit.” He has compared headlines about President Biden’s “fiery” demeanor with his own burn scars. “You want to see fiery, Friend? I’m literally fiery,” read one email, which included a photo of his scarred face. “I will stand in the fire. I will take the flames.”

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