Campaigning in Las Vegas, first-term Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada teamed up with rank-and-file members of the state’s powerful Culinary Union, which represents casino, hotel and restaurant workers in Sin City and Reno.
“It was wonderful to join hundreds of @Culinary226 workers at @MandalayBay this morning. I will always have their back,” the senator tweeted on Tuesday.
Cortez Masto will need all the support she can get from the politically powerful Culinary Union as she faces a very challenging re-election against Republican nominee Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general – he succeeded Cortez Masto as the state’s top prosecutor – who’s the grandson of former senator and governor Paul Laxalt.
Nevada’s Senate race is one of a handful across the country in the November midterms that may determine whether the GOP wins back the chamber’s majority. And according to an average of the latest public opinion polls in the crucial western battleground state compiled by Real Clear Politics, Laxalt holds a slight 1.7-point edge over Cortez Masto with three weeks to go until Election Day. Senate Republicans view Cortez Masto as the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent seeking another term.
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But it’s not just the Senate race.
First-term Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak slightly trails Republican gubernatorial nominee and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo in an average of the latest surveys. And Democratic Reps. Dina Titus in Nevada’s 1st Congressional District and Susie Lee in the 3rd District are fighting for their political lives, with Democratic incumbent Steven Horsford in the 4th District also facing a challenging re-election.
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Democrats currently control both U.S. Senate seats, three of the four U.S. House seats, the governor’s office and both houses of the state legislature. But facing historical headwinds – the party that wins the White House traditionally suffers major setbacks in the ensuing midterm elections – and a rough political climate fueled by record inflation, soaring crime and a border crisis, and accentuated by President Biden’s rebounding but still underwater approval ratings, Democrats are playing defense in Nevada, as Republicans aim to paint the Silver State red in November.
“You look at the issues we have here. The price of gas. The price of food. Crime is a big issue here,” Nevada GOP chair Michael McDonald said. “You look at school choice. Education’s very big.”
And McDonald noted that every time voters “go to the gas pump to fill up their car, they’re feeling it. Every time they have to buy groceries for the family, they’re feeling it. It’s all commonsense politics right now.”
Chris Moyer, a veteran Democratic operative and communicator, and a former political aide to the late Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid of Nevada, also pointed to the economy.
“No state economy gets hits harder than Nevada when the national economy is struggling. Nevada is usually slower to rebound from an economic downturn. Gas prices are higher in Nevada than they are in many other parts of the country,” Moyer said.
Elections are often nail-biters in Nevada. Cortez Masto won the Senate seat by just two points in 2016, Sisolak downed Laxalt by four points in the 2018 gubernatorial election, and Biden edged President Donald Trump by two points to carry the state in 2020.
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But with the Democrats dominating the state government and federal delegation, Moyer said there’s a misconception that the state is blue. “Nevada is a purple state. Democrats have had success over the past several elections, so if you just look at the surface, it looks like a more solidly blue state than it really is,” Moyer emphasized.
Cortez Masto made history in 2018 as the first Latina elected to the U.S. Senate. But Republicans in Nevada and in other key states made gains with Spanish-speaking voters in 2020.
McDonald argued that Latino voters are more “aligned with the Republican Party” due to their “religious, family and economic values.”
But the Cortez Masto campaign spotlights that they’ve been reaching out to Latino voters with both English and Spanish language TV ads since March. Democrats say the Cortez Masto campaign has been putting in the hard work needed to court Latino voters.
And the Culinary Union, which represents a heavy immigrant workforce of some 60,000 strong, “is very much engaged and able to knock on doors in a way they couldn’t two years ago. And that’s going to be a key for success for Democrats up and down the ballot,” Moyer emphasized.
Ted Pappageorge, who heads the Culinary Union, touted on Twitter, “Canvassers have knocked on over 500,000 doors statewide & are on track to knock on more than half of the Black & Latinx voters and more than a third of AAPI voters. The key thing is working-class voters talking to working-class voters.”
And the Democrats’ coordinated campaign in the state pointed to their get-out-the-vote operation.
“Nevada Democrats started our outreach efforts earlier than ever before to reach voters across the state and ensure they know Democrats up and down the ballot are fighting and delivering for hardworking families. NDV is building on that early momentum to mobilize and turn out every voter in this critical midterm election,” Nevada Democratic Victory communications director Mallory Payne told Fox News.
But McDonald told Fox News that due to the tough economic times, “lots of people are crossing over. A lot of independents are coming our way. We’ve seen that in the field.”
The election is the first since the passing last December of Reid, who had built a powerful political organization in his home state during his decades in the Senate and his eight years as the chamber’s majority leader. With Reid gone, there are plenty of people asking whether his political operation will still pack the same punch.
“I know a lot of people are thinking about that angle,” Moyer acknowledged. But he pointed out that Reid’s “lieutenants are still in place. It’s still well-oiled. It’s gone through some changes but it’s still in place.”
But with Reid gone and the Democrats facing historical and political headwinds, his machine is facing high hurdles as early in-person voting in Nevada gets underway Saturday.