Case Study: Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)

On November 8th, 2016, Nevada elected the first Latina United States Senator, with Catherine Cortez Masto's win. She beat her opponent, Republican Joe Heck by just under 4%, also becoming Nevada's first female Senator.

Cortez Masto began her career working in a U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, DC prior to returning to Nevada. She was elected Attorney General of the State of Nevada in 2006, a race in which she won 59%-36% (NV SoS Office). She was subsequently reelected to a final term as AG in 2010, a race that she won 53%-36%. Due to term limits, she left office in early 2015.

Following the retirement of Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), who served as Democratic leader in the Senate and the Senate Majority Leader, in 2016, Cortez Masto announced her campaign to succeed him. Because the race coincided with the 2016 Presidential Election, many of the issues in that race were present in this one, specifically immigration. Cortez Masto took a pro-immigration, anti-Trump position whilst campaigning, meanwhile, her opponent first praised him, then condemned him, then reversed course yet again (Phillips).

Exit polling for this race is not conducted directly in the 2016 Senate race, but on the same ballot, Hillary Clinton won 60% of the Latino vote in Nevada, and it's likely that Cortez Masto matched or even surpassed that given that they performed about evenly (CNN).

In the 2022 cycle, due to Nevada's competitiveness, Cortez Masto was viewed as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents and one of Republicans' best chances to pick up a seat in the Senate. Throughout the campaign, polls showed a tight race, and many suggested she was lagging behind her opponent, Republican Adam Laxalt. The issues of this race were different than in 2022: abortion took a more prominent role after the fall of Roe v. Wade, and the candidates also discussed crime and inflation.

Despite many expecting her to lose, Senator Cortez Masto pulled out a win by just under 2% for another 6-year term. Exit polling suggests that she won ~60% of the Latino vote, despite Latino turnout taking a nosedive compared to 2020 and 2018 (CNN).

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