As Senator Catherine Cortez Masto walked into the Crepe Cafe on the east side of Las Vegas last Thursday, she found herself in friendly territory. Like the cafe’s owner, William Tejada, she traces her family’s roots to Mexico, and most of the clientele that had gathered to meet her were Latin women.
With only a few weeks until November midterm elections, these voters should have been a safe bet for Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the US Senate. But the incumbent Democrat faces a tough fight to stay in power.
She trails Republican rival Adam Laxalt in nearly every opinion poll, and most polls show her support among Latinos waning – a worrying sign for Democrats in Nevada, a state that could prove key in determining whether Joe Biden’s party can retain control of the Senate.
“I think she’s trying to make the Latino community aware of how close the race is and needs their support,” said Lester Frisse, a retired nurse who had come to the Crepe Cafe. to meet Cortez Masto, who served two terms as Nevada. Attorney General before being elected to the Senate in 2016.
This time, the stakes are high: Nevada voters could very well determine which party controls the upper house of Congress, which is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, while many analysts see Cortez Masto as the most incumbent. vulnerable. election.
Mike Noble, head of research at OH Predictive Insights, a nonpartisan polling firm, described Nevada as “potentially the best pickup opportunity for Republicans.”
The tight race comes as the nation’s Democrats find it increasingly difficult to hold on to the once relatively secure Hispanic vote and Republicans woo Latino voters with an economic message focused on jobs and inflation.
In a poll of likely voters in Nevada last month, Noble’s firm found that 45% supported Laxalt, compared to 43% for Cortez Masto. Among Latino voters — who make up nearly 20% of the state’s electorate — the poll showed Cortez Masto with just a five-point lead.
Just two years ago, a CNN poll showed Biden leading Donald Trump among Latinos by a 26-point margin in Nevada.
“It really shows this shift from Hispanic Latinos to Republicans,” Noble said.
Laxalt, who served as Nevada’s attorney general and most recently chaired Trump’s bid for re-election in the state in 2020, believes his economic message — that Biden and the Democrats had cratered the economy by shuttering businesses for too long for the coronavirus pandemic and then allowed inflation to take hold — will resonate with working-class Latinos.
“[Cortez Masto] would not have had to work so hard to regain that vote in the final weeks of this election if she had represented that community,” Laxalt told reporters during a campaign stop in Las Vegas last week.
The race has set off alarm bells among Democrats, many of whom have resigned themselves to losing control of the House of Representatives in the November 8 midterm elections and see clinging to the Senate as the best outcome.
Trump has already made two visits to Nevada to campaign for Laxalt, which has been a strong supporter of the former president. The grandson of two Republican senators, Laxalt came to national attention in 2020 when he made false allegations of widespread voter fraud and attempted to overturn the results of Nevada’s presidential election.
Cortez Masto hammered Laxalt for her role in promoting Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election. She also attacked his support for the US Supreme Court decision this year, which overturned the nation’s abortion rights, which Laxalt called “a historic victory for the sanctity of life.” Polls have shown that a majority of Nevada residents support abortion rights.
Voters’ concerns about abortion have spurred Democrats across the United States this summer, with polls showing the issue could help them ride out the usual midterm unease that tends to reward the party that doesn’t control the vote. White House.
But more recent polls suggest the stubborn rise of inflation once again become the main concern of voters. Gasoline prices in Nevada are among the highest in the country, and the tourism-dependent economy in Las Vegas — where the unemployment rate hit 28.5% in 2020 — is awaiting a full return to its convention business. .
Laxalt took its economic message to a heavily Latino crowd at a campaign event in a suburb of Las Vegas last week that was held in English and Spanish.
“Every area of life for working-class Nevadans is going in the wrong direction,” he told reporters after the event. “Biden, with support from Masto, has enacted policies that are killing the American dream in Las Vegas. . . It will be an election of change.
Cortez Masto counters that Democrats acted to contain rising prices by passing the Cut Inflation Act in August, although economists say it is unlikely to reduce the headline inflation rate in the short term. term.
She also called on energy companies to pump more oil. “I know Big Oil is sitting on permits where they could have drilled,” she told reporters last week. “I supported more drilling to get more of that supply out there and reduce costs.”
Asked by reporters about her place in the polls, Cortez Masto replied that “Nevada is always close”. She was elected to the Senate by a margin of 2.5 points; Biden beat Trump in the state in 2020 by less than three points.
Republicans insist that this year the headwinds are blowing in their favor. But both sides recognize that Nevada Democrats have an ace card that could help Cortez Masto cross the line: the powerful Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which represents about 60,000 casino workers in Las Vegas and Reno.
Along with other unions, kitchen workers have been a cornerstone of Democratic efforts to get their voters to the polls in recent years.
“The story of the past decade has been of the dominant Democrat turnout, particularly through the Culinary Union and some of the other unions, entering the field very early, knocking on doors, bringing recalcitrant voters to the polls and voting Democrat,” said David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.
But Damore warned that the status quo has changed in 2020. “The Trump campaign has done a good job making investments in Nevada. . . and the Democrats were kind of caught on their heels. They hadn’t been as aggressive because of Covid, and they played a lot of catch-up.
At Crepe Cafe, owner Tejada credited Cortez Masto and the Biden administration with helping his business survive the worst of the pandemic. He acknowledged prices were rising – including for eggs, milk and flour which are staples of his restaurant – but said things were looking better for him than they were there. one year old.
He was also optimistic about the economy of Las Vegas, which is beginning to experience a rise in tourism – spurred in part by a new American football stadium and the Las Vegas Raiders’ move from Oakland, Calif., in 2020.” There are more people coming to our city, and that benefits our business.