US Senate candidates in Nevada locked in neck-and-neck race
RENO, Nev. (AP) — For a swing state, there’s been remarkably little motion in Nevada’s polls. Democratic U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican challenger Adam Laxalt have been locked in a neck-and-neck race for weeks.
Both have hit hard on national party talking points, with Laxalt blaming inflation and illegal immigration on Democratic policies, and Cortez Masto promising to block GOP-led attempts at a nationwide abortion ban and to fight for a pathway to permanent citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children.
But those issues aren’t necessarily sure-fire wins. With voters heading to the polls Tuesday, the nail-biting race may hinge on nuance.
Economic woes could outweigh abortion concerns for many residents. Voters enshrined abortion rights into state law more than 30 years ago, and the state’s hospitality- and entertainment-dominated economy hasn’t rebounded as quickly as other sectors since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It all means high gas and grocery prices could dull the impact of Cortez Masto’s reproductive rights messaging.
Abortion is legal in Nevada, but Cortez Masto said she would use her seat to block any efforts in the Senate to advance a nationwide abortion ban. Laxalt has said abortion policy decisions should remain in the hands of the states, but also expressed support for a referendum that would restrict abortion after 13 weeks.
Some swing voters in suburban regions could be put off by Laxalt’s close ties to former President Donald Trump. Laxalt co-chaired Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign in Nevada and later promoted and advanced lies about the election. Laxalt’s communication director Courtney Holland attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6 and was photographed with members of the Oath Keepers extremist group, including some who were later charged with insurrection-related crimes. Holland has said she left the event once she saw the rally was deteriorating.
Both candidates are working hard to gain votes from Nevada’s Spanish-speaking community. Latinos — which make up roughly four out of every 10 residents — might be as energized by Cortez Masto’s promises to find a pathway to permanent citizenship for “Dreamers” as they are frustrated with high gas and grocery prices caused by inflation. The election might become a case-study of sorts on the inroads the Republican Party has made with the Hispanic community.
Laxalt has said he would work to “finish the wall” on the nation’s southern border and that he supports a return to the “remain in Mexico” policy enacted by the Trump administration, which sent asylum-seeking migrants back across the Mexico border while they waited for a decision from U.S. immigration authorities.
Cortez Masto has clocked a lot of time courting the state’s hourly workers, aided in door-to-door campaign efforts by the powerful Culinary Union, whose roughly 70,000 members include bartenders, porters and housekeeping staffers.
Both sides have also flirted with misinformation along the way. A Cortez Masto ad targeting Spanish-speaking viewers took Laxalt’s words out of context to suggest that he’s happy some small businesses never recovered after the pandemic. But a look at his full remarks show that Laxalt was saying he believed it was good news that people would blame Democratic leaders and policies for the impact of some pandemic policies.
An Adam Laxalt advertisement wrongly claimed that when a local law enforcement officer was shot in the head during the George Floyd riots, Cortez Masto “didn’t say a word.” In fact, she condemned the violence on a social media account, calling it “tragic.” Another advertisement from a Republican political action committee repeated unsubstantiated claims from a prior campaign to falsely make it seem as if Cortez Masto “supported releasing drunk drivers.”
The candidates each come from powerful political families. Laxalt’s grandfather was former Nevada governor and U.S. Senator Paul Laxalt, and his father was former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici from New Mexico. Still, 14 members of Laxalt’s extended family endorsed Cortez Masto, lauding her “Nevada grit” in a public statement that did not mention Laxalt by name.
Cortez Masto’s father Manny Cortez served as a member of the Clark County Commission and was the longtime head of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, a government tourism agency led by a board made up of private resort industry members and local government officials.
Cortez Masto was Nevada’s attorney general from 2007 to 2015, before she became the first Latina elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016. Laxalt held the state attorney general’s post from 2015 to 2019, and unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018.
Associated Press writers Sam Metz in Salt Lake City, Ali Swenson in New York City and Graph Massara in San Francisco contributed.
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