Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto will win reelection in Nevada, CNN projects, clinching a critical victory that will allow Democrats to keep control of the US Senate.
Cortez Masto had long been viewed as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents as she fended off a challenge from former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt in a state whose economy had been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and inflation.
With Cortez Masto – the first Latina senator – securing a second term, Democrats will hold 50 seats and Republicans will hold 49. Democrats are also defending a seat in Georgia, where Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker are headed to a December 6 runoff. But even if Republicans pick up that seat, the chamber would still be evenly divided, allowing Vice President Kamala Harris to still hold the tie-breaking vote. Democrats were able to hold the majority, in part, because they picked up a seat in Pennsylvania, where Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, defeated Trump-backed Mehmet Oz in the contest to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.
Control of the US House still hangs in the balance and may not be determined for some time with ballots left to be counted in closely contested races in California, as well as other states.
Laxalt was closely allied with former President Donald Trump after aiding his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in the Silver State. But it was the state’s difficult economic climate – with one of the nation’s highest inflation rates and gas prices that still topped $5 a gallon in October – that became the animating force in this Senate contest.
Cortez Masto was elected in 2016 to replace outgoing Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, who had been a powerful force in Nevada politics for decades. She touted her efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic to steer comprehensive relief and recovery aid to the convention, trade show, entertainment and hospitality industries that are central to the state’s economy.
One of the biggest challenges she faced is that much of Nevada’s population is transient – meaning many voters had not gotten to know Cortez Masto or her record. Laxalt and Republican allied groups sought to tie the Democratic senator to President Joe Biden, whose approval ratings are underwater in a state that he narrowly won in 2020.
Though there are many economic forces at play in driving inflation, including Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, supply chain issues and the effects of the pandemic, the GOP argued that the spending and relief bills pushed by Democrats led to the sticker shock that many Nevadans are feeling at the gas pump and the grocery store. Cortez Masto focused on Democrats’ legislative efforts to reduce Americans’ costs, including on health care and prescription drugs, while trying to tie her Republican opponent to “big oil.”
Cortez Masto also tried to remind voters of Laxalt’s history as one of Trump’s campaign co-chairs and accused him of pushing an “extreme agenda” and conspiracy theories that she said fueled the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
She and allied Democratic groups also tried to argue that Laxalt would put abortion rights at risk in Nevada, even though they are protected up to 24 weeks by a 1990 voter referendum. In an Op-Ed for the Reno Gazette Journal, Laxalt pushed back – stating that abortion access was settled law in the state and that he would not support a federal ban on abortion.