October 7, 2022


Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto made history nearly six years ago as the first Latina elected to the U.S. Senate after a hard-fought, expensive race she won by less than 3 percent.

Her re-election looks just as difficult, and one demographic is particularly important to keeping her seat: Latinos.

Republicans, buoyed by Latino gains in South Texas and Florida in recent elections, see Nevada as their next opportunity to make inroads with a right-leaning voting demographic.

GOP candidate and former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, through his Latinos for Laxalt coalition, is telling voters that his MAGA-branded candidacy is an opportunity for change.

“The only thing we have to wait for is for the people to wake up,” Laxalt said at a Latino-focused campaign in Las Vegas earlier this month, according to a dispatch from The Nevada Independent. “They are throwing away the Democrats. They know these policies are dangerous and toxic for our children, for our country.”

But left-leaning Latino organizing groups and Cortez Masto’s campaign are pulling out all the stops to make sure the vote swing doesn’t happen — and they reject the idea that the GOP playbook that worked with recent Latino vote wins in Texas and Florida it will have the same effect in the Battle Born State.

“Republicans are treating Latinos as a monolith and saying that because they’ve seen movement in some small portion of Latinos in select states, that’s a paintbrush for the entire country and for Latinos across the country,” Yvonne Gonzales, executive director of Latino. The Victory Fund, he told The Daily Beast. “When we know that’s not the case.”

Cortez Masto has been a reliable vote for President Joe Biden’s agenda and a voice for Nevada’s plight during the pandemic, where the hospitality and tourism industry has been decimated as travel has ground to a halt.

But elections for Nevada Democrats are often won by narrow margins. Cortez Masto won her first Senate term by just 2.4 points in 2016 — but Latinos voted for Cortez Mastro 61 to 32 percent over then-challenger Joe Heck — the same as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 60 percent Clinton that same year, according to at Las Vegas Review-Journal. Biden also won the state in 2020, but with 56 Latinos voting, while Trump improved his share of the vote from 29% to 37% in exit polls, according to NBC News.

Latinos are expected to are coming out in increased numbers in Nevada compared to the 2020 general election — and likely they make up 1 in 5 intermediate Nevada voters this November, according to projections by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Education Fund.

Although Democrats have seen some signs of hope that their midterm prospects are not completely weakened, a historic two-point margin gives some breathing room in what is predicted to be a difficult year for the party.

“It’s going to be competitive, they’re usually in Nevada,” Cortez Masto told The Daily Beast on Tuesday.

Laxalt himself was one of the GOP’s top recruits in this cycle, with expectations that he would dominate any key Republican field on name recognition alone, as Laxalt’s father—and grandfather—were US Senators. Those expectations came true as Laxalt, who is endorsed by former President Trump, won the GOP primary in June with more than 55 percent of the vote.

Cortez Masto’s campaign is well aware of the role Latino voters are playing in securing her re-election over Laxalt this November. It has been airing in Spanish since May, with commercials promoting it The journey of the Mexican grandfather to America and her record in the Senate during her first term. He also makes the rounds at Latino-centric events, criss-crossing the state to help reach voters from key demographics.

Cortez Masto campaign spokesman Josh Marcus-Blank said her candidacy offers a “clear contrast” to Laxalt’s, adding, “Senator Cortez Masto has consistently fought for the Nevada community.”

But Laxalt and his conservative allies are putting boots on the ground in Latino communities as well. Just last week, Laxalt plunged into blue-sky Las Vegas with a series of Latina-focused voter outreach events, hoping to influence longtime Democrats to take a chance with conservatives.

His message echoes those used by Republicans in Texas and Florida — which have proven at least somewhat effective: The American dream is under attack in the state amid inflation and increased gas prices, and that perhaps electing a Republican could catalyze some element of change.

“I am extremely grateful for the overwhelming support I have received from the Latino community throughout this campaign,” Laxalt said in a statement after completing a round of campaign stops focused on Latino voters.

“As I traveled across the state, I had the opportunity to speak with countless Latino families to hear their stories and hear their concerns and priorities. Like many families, they are concerned about rising prices, the cost of gas, our open borders and a deadly increase in violent crime.”

Republican officials in the zone are also enthusiastic about Laxalt’s prospects.

“Oh, we’re going to win,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott told The Daily Beast about the Nevada Senate race. In a follow-up to asking what voting demographics would make that possible, Scott advocated a “big investment in the Hispanic vote” as a Republican silver bullet to victory.

“As you know, Hispanics are fed up with the Democratic Party because they’ve realized that the Democratic Party doesn’t care about them … Hispanics are fed up with the public school system, fed up with all this inflation. They’re tired of compensating the police,” Scott said.

“I think it’s going to put us in a great position to win.”

But organizers say efforts to sway Latinos in the direction of the GOP aren’t new — and note that conservative records on issues like immigration and others won’t resonate with Nevada Latinos this cycle.

“We’ve seen Republicans over the years focus on trying to win the Latino vote and use certain wedge issues that they think will resonate with Latinos,” Gonzalez said. “When you really look at the Republican narrative right now, they couldn’t be more anti-Latino.”

Maria Teresa Kumar, president of the organizing group Voto Latino, also told The Daily Beast that the Latino right-wing trend is largely driven by older Latinos. Younger Latinos, he says, still lean solidly with Democrats, and their participation is key to Cortez Masto’s victory.

“They are the ones who can challenge many of these states and we have to bring them to the polls,” Kumar said.

And Democratic operatives warn that the GOP’s new efforts will not offset the long-term investments the left has made among Latinos.

“Democrats have been doing this work for a very long time. And there’s more work to be done right now, but we’ve been beating it consistently for decades,” said Megan Jones, a veteran Nevada Democratic operative.

To be sure, Nevada is one of the most diverse states in the nation, with large Asian American and Pacific Islander and Black populations, meaning a range of viewpoints will come into play. And political issues are sure to remain at the forefront of both candidates’ campaigns, as new abortion restrictions, climate change, jobs and rising prices remain issues in the West.

“[Laxalt] it goes against Roe v. Wade and gives everyone the choice of reproductive freedom and is against the bipartisan infrastructure package that I supported that will create good-paying jobs in our state,” Cortez Masto told the Daily Beast. “And he’s still out there peddling his conspiracies and lies about the election — the last election.”

But there’s no doubt that investing in Latinos will be a game-changer — to the point that Gonzalez says even Democrats could do more.

“I always think there has to be more and I’m biased…” she said. “We can’t just paint with a broad brush. So I think there’s definitely more that needs to be done, you know, by the party to engage and motivate and mobilize Latinos to vote for them — and it’s a significant opportunity.”



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