Las Vegas Sun

April 14, 2024

It’s over: Cortez Masto declared winner in U.S. Senate race against Trump-backed candidate

Balance of power remains with Democrats after narrow Nevada win

Democratic Victory Party

Wade Vandervort

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., smiles onstage during the Democratic Party’s watch party on election night, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

Updated Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022 | 10:55 p.m.

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, long labeled as the most vulnerable Democratic U.S. senator on the midterm election ballot, is remaining in office.

Cortez Masto was narrowly elected to a second term against Republican challenger Adam Laxalt, the candidate backed by former President Donald Trump who spent the campaign trying to pin on his opponent the nation’s up-and-down economy and rising inflation brought on by the pandemic.

Turns out that latching onto Trump, who lost the Nevada vote in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential election, wasn’t a winning strategy.

Cortez Masto, who trailed throughout the counts last week, pulled ahead of Laxalt after Clark County — the state’s Democratic-majority urban core that includes 1.3 million of Nevada’s 1.8 million registered voters — released results from a final batch of mail ballots Saturday afternoon.

Cortez Masto faced a 22,595-vote deficit on election night. As ballots dropped off at polling places and those mailed in were counted, she earned a roughly 5,038-vote advantage after Saturday’s count was released by Clark County. The Associated Press called the race in her favor after that last batch was tallied.

She celebrated the victory with followers on social media, posting “Thank you Nevada!” on Twitter.

It’s a gigantic win for Democrats.

Coupled with Sen. Mark Kelly’s tough reelection victory in Arizona, Cortez Masto’s defense of her seat gives Democrats a 50-49 edge in the Senate. Regardless of what happens in the  Dec. 6 Georgia runoff between Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat seeking a full term, and Republican Herschel Walker, the Democrats have the tiebreaking vote with Vice President Kamala Harris.

“With a hold in Arizona and Nevada, Democrats will have a majority in the Senate and I will once again be majority leader,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a televised address late Saturday. “This election is a victory. A victory and a vindication for Democrats, our agenda and for America and the American people.”

The Nevada victory is even more critical for Democrats nationally when considering that Republicans could win enough U.S. House seats to gain the majority in the lower chamber of Congress. As of Saturday night, the GOP had 211 seats secured, compared with 202 for Democrats. The remaining 23 races had not yet been called.

It’s unclear whether Laxalt will accept defeat.

His campaign told The New York Times in September that he would not challenge the outcome of the race.

“Of course he’ll accept Nevada’s certified election results, even if your failing publication won’t,” Brian Freimuth, a spokesperson for Laxalt, told the Times. 

But in 2020 after Trump’s defeat in Nevada, Laxalt led the charge to overturn Nevada’s vote, filing numerous lawsuits alleging voter fraud. After President Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election by more than 30,000 votes in Nevada, many Republicans cried foul and touted claims that the election was stolen and that mail-in ballots were submitted fraudulently. Those claims were proven false in court challenges, and Nevada’s Republican secretary of state has assured the public that the election was free and fair and untainted by meaningful fraud.

In a tweet Friday, Laxalt labeled a British newspaper report that his campaign was preparing to seek a recount as “totally and completely false.” At that time, he was still confident of victory.

There is no automatic trigger for a recount in close elections in Nevada. Should Laxalt decide to seek a recount, his campaign would be on the hook for the cost. Joey Gilbert, who failed in his bid to be the Republican nominee for governor in the June primary, paid $190,000 for a statewide recount in his race. But that recount involved far fewer ballots being cast than in the general election.

Days after officially announcing his candidacy, Laxalt told radio host Wayne Allyn Root that he planned to assemble a team to “come up with a full plan, do our best to try to secure this election, get as many observers as we can, and file lawsuits early, if there are lawsuits we can file to try to tighten up the election,” according to the Associated Press.  

In March, The New York Times obtained leaked audio of Laxalt telling reporters he was “vetting outside groups to help in establishing election observer teams and map out a litigation strategy.”

Click to enlarge photo

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, right, D-Nev., welcomes former President Bill Clinton during a campaign stop at the Nevada State AFL-CIO offices in Henderson, Nev. Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022.

How Cortez Masto won

At 6 a.m. Tuesday, Election Day, with the sun just about to rise in Southern Nevada, union canvassers started knocking on doors in east Las Vegas and near downtown, encouraging workers who hadn’t yet voted to participate.

Organizers with Las Vegas’ Culinary Union — the powerful organized labor group that represents thousands of hospitality workers on the Strip and ardent backers of Democratic candidates — had a goal of knocking on over 1 million doors leading up to the election, with a simple theory: Every last vote was crucial.

And over the past two days, with about 5,000 ballots needing signature verification in Clark County as part of the mail ballot cure process, Nevada Democratic Victory, the advocacy group that works to get Democrats elected, took action by organizing a call bank to contact voters whose ballots need to be cured. The county posted a list online of voters in question.

“In order to win and protect every Nevadan, we need to reach every supporter that has encountered a ballot issue and ensure their vote is counted,” the group posted on its site looking for volunteers.

With turnout expected to be less than the 2020 presidential election, when more than 77% of registered Nevadans voted, the efforts throughout election week energized Cortez Masto’s base to vote.

Even former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama hosted rallies in Las Vegas in the final week of campaigning to support Cortez Masto.

The strategy worked: Just enough Nevadans voted for Cortez Masto.

But her win was more than voter turnout. Throughout the campaign, Cortez Masto and her team focused on everything from Laxalt’s extremism to her efforts at bipartisanship.

The first Latina to serve in the Senate, she was the single most effective first-term senator in the United States, according to the Center for Effective Lawmaking.

Cortez Masto successfully passed numerous bipartisan public safety and health bills, including a bill cosponsored with Republicans Josh Hawley and Roy Blunt to address rising rates of police suicide.

Even though she voted with Biden 92.7% of the time, she was far from the “rubber stamp” Laxalt made her out to be. And she didn’t mind speaking out when it benefited Nevadans.

When Biden in August announced a student-loan forgiveness of up to $10,000 in federal loans, she issued a statement saying she didn’t agree with the “executive action because it doesn’t address the root problems that make college unaffordable.”

“We should be focusing on passing my legislation to expand Pell Grants for lower-income students, target loan forgiveness to those in need, and actually make college more affordable for working families,” she said.

And when the Democrat-led U.S. House of Representatives proposed changes to  mining law as part of its reconciliation bill that would be a burden to Nevada’s mining industry, Cortez Masto made sure the provision died in the Senate, earning praise from both sides of the political aisle.

“I want to acknowledge and thank Sen. Cortez Masto for her caring and attention to the people of Nevada, specifically close to my heart for the rural people,” said Rich Haddock, general counsel for Barrick Gold Mines in Nevada. “She spends time and effort there, and I appreciate it. I specifically thank her for her support of the people who mine.”

Cortez Masto also helped pass the Inflation Reduction Act, which lowers prescription drug prices, caps insulin costs at a maximum of $35 per month and caps annual out-of-pocket expenses at a maximum of $2,000 for those on Medicare.

Now, she has six more years to continue representing the Silver State.

Cortez Masto spent much of her energy on the campaign trail warning that Republicans would use a Senate majority to codify a bill that would restrict abortion nationally to 15 weeks gestation. That was introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in September.

Such a law would supersede current Nevada law, which allows the procedure to be performed up to 24 weeks.