What rests on Catherine Cortez Masto’s candidacy in Nevada
Her defeat means an even Senate split in Congress, but the nominee maintains Nevadans have always voted this way.
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The headline spotlight this weekend was on Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, an incumbent, and how her loss could deal a double blow for Hispanic representation in Congress, in addition to splitting the Senate halfway for the first time since the last midterm elections.
Cortez Masto, 58, remains the only Senator serving in Congress after she was elected in 2017. Previously, she was the state’s most consequential lawyer and held the Attorney General role for two terms.
In August, she held a lead of seven percentage points over her opponent, Republican nominee Adam Laxalt, in a headway that has almost completely evaporated following a new poll by Suffolk / USA TODAY.
Recent surveys place the Democratic nominee in a dead-heat race of 46%-44%. David Paleologos, of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston, attributed the drop to Latino voters.
“Catherine Cortez Masto has given back nearly all of her August advantage thanks to a significant erosion among Latinx voters,” Paleologos said, albeit he mentioned her advantage in the larger Nevada counties which could help close the gap from the loss in more rural parts of the state.
Latino voter sentiment has shifted since the last midterm election in 2018. Republican favorability among the Latino constituency increased, closing a historically wide gap that benefited Democrats.
And while Democrats have largely outspent their Republican counterparts on TV ads, many candidates continue to reckon with the ebb and flow of policy concerns for Latinos. Many commercials have focused on legislative wins on Capitol Hill, and others conform to a sentimental appeal.
But Cortez Masto has staunchly maintained throughout her campaign that Nevada voters are independent, and a toss-up result is to be expected of elections.
“I also know a lot of the polling gets Nevada wrong, so I really don’t utilize or worry about that,” she told Vox in mid October.
It’s not the first time Cortez Masto finds herself in a tight race. In 2016, polls also positioned the former Attorney General in an similar matchup, in a year where polls observed chaotic outcomes in contrast to predictions.
In a year when former president Donald Trump touted an anti-immigration speech — which inevitably lent itself to anti-Latino sentiments — Cortez Masto swiped a Senate seat by leveraging law enforcement partners that made her an appealable, moderate candidate.
In October of 2022, she revived a platform that strays away from more progressive agendas when she pledged $21 million toward law enforcement efforts across Nevada.
“These funds will support efforts all over the state to prevent human trafficking and school violence, address behavioral health issues, and help law enforcement keep communities safe,” the pledge’s statement reads.
Her efforts to tackle crime might poll well with the Latino constituency, many of whom express, continuously, that crime is at the top three of their concerns, a trend that doesn’t undergo much change according to data surrounding Latino polling.
And yet, Cortez Masto has many other public hurdles to overcome. Reporting around the candidate says that she is a behind-the-scenes kind of candidate, possibly allergic to the spotlight, and would prefer to get things done where it’s less apparent.
Polling by UnidosUS, Mi Familia Vota and NALEO suggests that approach could injure her campaign. The topmost feedback says that Latinos don’t hear from candidates, which often results in an unconvinced vote, compounded with a barrage of ads from Republican counterparts.
In Nevada’s case, Adam Laxalt allies spent $2 million in anti-Cortez Masto sentiments, donning her weak on crime, but her campaign highlighted her police-friendly platform over the years.
“Both as Nevada’s attorney general and in the Senate, I have worked with law enforcement to ensure our officers have the resources they need to keep our communities safe,” Cortez Masto told NBC in a statement.
Laxalt’s strategy tracks with research conducted by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, which found disinformation was rampant in Spanish-language ads, with 77% of those sampled hearing that abortion was illegal nationwide, in additon to a 75% hearing that election fraud, during the 2020 election, was widespread.
Of those, a sizeable number of ad recipients — more than half for abortion and 38% for election fraud — believed it was true.
Additionally, Laxalt rides on the coattails of former president Trump’s coveted endorsement, as many GOP candidates running for office, seeking Republican approval, have done, although recently, Laxalt’s family endorsed his Democratic opponents.
Cortez Masto, on her part, has stayed on message about the economy, unemployment, and its a good strategy for Latinos who aren’t necessarily recipients of targeted messaging. The economy, notably inflation, is an issue that topples other policy issues.
Compounded with her tough-on-crime stance, she is poised to gain an edge with Latinos who, historically, trust Democrats for those issues.
As far as what her candidacy implies, Cortez Masto told Vox she isn’t concerned, and will continue to focus on Nevadans.
“My focus is on Nevada. I don’t really care about the national attention, honestly, and people in Nevada, they’re not really paying that kind of attention,” Cortez Masto said in a statement to Vox.