December 6, 2023

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LAS VEGAS — Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto stood by the kitchen doors of a Latino-owned restaurant and welcomed the crowd that spilled onto the sidewalk, where a DJ dropped into the neon-drenched shopping complex about five miles east of the Las Vegas Strip. With fried fish piled into guests’ bowls for the opening of a new restaurant, and a who’s-who of the de facto Latino chamber of commerce in attendance, the Senator strolled in, seemingly knowing most of the people there.

“Latinos, this is what we do. We’re opening businesses,” Nevada’s first female senator and the only Latina ever elected to the Senate told the crowd. “We are part of the community. We are entrepreneurs. We want to make sure our families are strong, our kids have opportunities, everyone in our neighborhood — we’re all in this together.”

Cortez Masto then spent more than an hour taking photos with supporters who seemed to know their senator in a way rarely seen elsewhere. They called her Catherine on her face and La Senadora to anyone who will listen. They understood the importance of her ties to the community and understood the high stakes of her re-election bid, shaping perhaps the sharpest challenge this fall. The showdown with Republican Adam Laxalt is seen as a two-point race at best — and one that could decide whether Democrats retain their narrow Senate majority.

“He knows us,” says Noemi Quintero, niece of labor icon Cesar Chavez who calls Cortez Masto a friend. “I believe in her. I will be with her until the end.”

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If the Democrats end up in a national showdown this fall, but Cortez Masto somehow survives, the Hispanic vote will have played a decisive role. Strategists expect about 15% to 20% of the electorate to identify as Hispanic or Latino — and it could be even higher as both parties work to register new voters. However, according to pulse measurement conducted by Emerson College last month, a solid one-third of Hispanic and Latino voters cast their lot with Laxalt. For context: that’s roughly the same level of Trump support enjoy it in 2020, when Biden won Nevada by just two points overall.

“We’re starting to have so many races determine the election,” says Daniel Garza, a longtime Republican operative who now heads the LIBRE Initiative, which reaches Hispanics and Latinos on behalf of the conservative Koch network. “It’s because we’re now politically curious. Right now, it’s time to double down.”

Hours after Cortez Masto did the bidding and opened the new restaurant east of the Strip, the network of Nevada volunteers behind LIBRE was passing jerky chicken and ribs to the table of another small business, this one six miles south of the Strip. Here, LIBRE super-activists greeted each other with hugs and waved together as they talked about economic opportunity and smaller government. The team offered a gift card to cover the meals of any new recruits.

“People are no longer involved in politics because they’ve lost faith in the system,” says Rosemary Flores, a veteran activist in the Hispanic community who switched political jerseys during the Trump years. Flores, 57, is now whipping up votes against Cortez Masto, arguing it’s time for new representation. “He’s not the new face anymore,” she says of Cortez Masto. “We gave her a chance and she didn’t take it.”

Nevada’s increasingly brown political landscape is difficult, strategists from both parties admit. Changes in demographics were expected to make the state more competitive for Democrats, but there remains a conservative streak in the Latino community that fueled much of the state’s growth. His western character tends to have libertarian sympathies. As one Latino strategist describes it, the Latino community is the last population in the United States that still believes in the American Dream.

Despite the headwinds, the Democrats insist they have reason to overcome despair. Their party dominates the governors’ offices and the House and Senate delegations in the American Southwest. Young pulse measurement by a pro-Biden super PAC suggests Democratic support among Latinos is consistent with 2018, while Republicans are slipping. And comes news from a shift as the Senate Democratic campaign generalCortez Masto knows all the best practices of the Democratic Senatorial Committee and its top fundraisers.

Then there’s the Republican in the race. Laxalt, who succeeded Cortez Masto as attorney general, has given his Democratic critics plenty of animal feed, and the crowd at the restaurant opening he spoke to seemed fully aware of his mistakes. His embrace of the Big Lie He won the approval of former President Donald Trump but also the disdain of centrists in this state. of Laxalt fundraiser it has not lived up to some of the optimism of the national strategies. Cortez Masto has raised $29 million this cycle and has $9 million in the bank, while Laxalt has raised $7 million and is sitting on $2 million.

The National Republicans started recently hardworking about Laxalt’s campaign more openly, though they also know Cortez Masto is still vulnerable. Nevada remains one of them three better receiving opportunities, along with Arizona and Georgia. (Senior Democrats think Georgia is the safest, given that the GOP candidate there, Herschel Walker, seems to have an unlimited capacity for error.)

Flores, the activist who supports Laxalt, remains clear about the fight. He is well aware of the situation in which he lives. “They are four steps ahead of us,” he says of the Democrats.

And Cortez Masto and her team are not ready to concede a single step from this beginning.

“At the end of the day, this is about all of our families,” said Cortez Masto, back at the new restaurant. While he declined to label Laxalt anything other than “my opponent,” he accused him of not supporting Latino businesses enough “That’s the challenge. He’s the one we’re across from. If we are going to continue to fight for all of us, we must make sure that we are together at all times. And if we do, we will have such opportunities.”

The entire Latino solidarity pitch lasted less than two minutes, but it was better than anything he could have written in a 30-second ad. And judging by the love Cortez Masto was getting after her quick remarks, many in the crowd were quick to text their neighbors the photo they’d just taken La Senadora. Besides, as the signs affixed to the support columns between the tables pointed out, the woman who took the time to visit them that day was Una De Las Nuestras. One of ours.

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