Nevada could cost Democrats their Senate majority
Democrats are bracing for a nail-biter in Nevada’s Senate race, a true toss-up that could determine whether the party retains the majority in the upper chamber.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D), who served as state attorney general for two terms before in 2016 becoming the first Latina to win a seat in the Senate, is fighting to keep her spot as she fends off a bid from Trump-endorsed Adam Laxalt (R), a former state attorney general.
While Cortez Masto has shown a competitive fundraising advantage, including raising more than double the amount Laxalt raked in during the second quarter this year, polling shows the Senate race will be close.
“This is the most important race on the map for Republicans or Democrats,” said one GOP strategist familiar with Nevada politics, later adding, “in Laxalt, you’ve got a candidate who can carry the change message very clearly, unify all clans in the Republican Party and is running a good race.”
Democrats also acknowledge the importance of this year’s race, noting Nevada’s history as a swing state.
“Democrats have shown that they have the ability to get out the vote and win close races in Nevada,” said one Democratic operative. “The Cortez Masto campaign and Nevada Democrats are prepared for what they have to do this fall in order to be successful.”
Democrats have seen their fortunes improve when it comes to the Senate, with multiple nonpartisan election handicappers moving the race for the upper chamber in their direction in recent weeks. But even as the party grows more confident in high-stakes Senate races in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania, the Silver State remains something of a wild card and, according to GOP strategist Colin Reed, “one of the best pick up opportunities for Republicans.”
In a sign of Nevada’s importance to Democrats, the party’s Senate campaign arm launched a new ad Tuesday as part of a $33 million spending campaign, targeting Laxalt over his abortion stance and previous comments he made in which he reportedly called the Roe v. Wade decision a joke.
The ad, which Laxalt campaign spokesperson Brian Freimuth called “dishonest” and “wildly inaccurate,” comes against the backdrop of a midterm environment that has already proven how the issue of abortion is energizing voters.
Nevada will be a unique test of the issue’s resonance with voters, given that the state already has protections for up to 24 weeks after conception. A poll conducted last year by OH Predictive Insights found that 69 percent of Nevada respondents said they leaned “pro-choice,” while 31 percent said they leaned “pro-life.” Laxalt has said he doesn’t back a national ban on the medical procedure and acknowledged in a response following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade that “the people of Nevada have already voted to make abortion rights legal in our state.”
In a statement, the Democrats’ Senate campaign arm tied Laxalt to both former President Trump and those supporting the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling.
“Laxalt has been the biggest cheerleader in Nevada for Donald Trump’s Big Lie and his political career has been defined by his opposition to a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions,” said Patrick Burgwinkle, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “He’s totally out of touch with Nevadans, and it’s why they’ll reject him in November.”
Laxalt’s campaign, like many other Republican campaigns this cycle, is targeting his Democratic challenger over the economy and inflation. In a statement, Freimuth called Cortez Masto a “disaster for our economy.”
“Her rubber-stamp support for Biden’s big spending proposals saddled our state with 15.4% inflation, costing each Nevada family $10,000 this year. This is making day-to-day life unaffordable for Nevadans and they’re enthusiastic about an opportunity for a new direction,” Freimuth said.
Cortez Masto, on the other hand, has emphasized abortion on and off the campaign trail. Last year, the senator penned an op-ed in Elle Magazine in an effort to raise alarm on the issue. Her campaign says the issue has been an energizing one in Nevada since Roe was overturned in June.
“When it all came in, we saw a lot of energy on the ground,” said Josh Marcus-Blank, a spokesman for the Cortez Masto campaign. “It’s a constant source of concern for voters, mostly for women, who have been raising it.”
The race will also be seen as a test of how well both candidates can court Latino voters, a critical voting bloc in the state. Data from the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund indicates that about 20 percent of Latinos in the state, or roughly 165,100 members of the demographic, are expected to vote in November.
Polls show Cortez Masto, the country’s first Latina senator, narrowly ahead of Laxalt, but her tight lead among Hispanic voters could be a particular cause for concern for Democrats. An AARP-commissioned poll released last week showed Cortez Masto leading by 11 points among Hispanic voters when placed on a full ballot. Her lead drops to 9 percent among Hispanic voters over 50 years old.
The poll comes as Republicans work to appeal to Hispanic voters across the country after making gains with the voting bloc in Florida and Texas in 2020.
The GOP strategist familiar with Nevada politics pointed, for example, to the Laxalt campaign’s Spanish-language website and Spanish-language radio and TV ad buys, noting there were plans for Spanish radio and TV ads in the coming weeks.
“The NRSC has invested early and often in battleground states across the country, including Nevada where we are seeing historic voter registration movement toward Republicans. Additionally, the NRSC has put unprecedented resources behind Hispanic outreach through our Operación ¡Vamos! initiative which is already paying dividends,” T.W. Arrighi, national press secretary for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), told The Hill.
Cortez Masto’s campaign has also worked to reach the voting bloc, targeting Latino and Hispanic voters on air since March 15. Additionally, Somos Votantes, a Democratic-leaning group aimed at engaging Latino voters, has already knocked on 130,000 doors in the state, with a focus on Clark County.
“We are making sure that we are not leaving a door behind,” said the group’s executive director Cecia Alvarado. “They have been put into the label that this is not a frequent voter, but we don’t believe in those labels. We believe in talking to our communities.”