Nevada’s Cortez Masto breaks barrier as 1st Latina in Senate
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada voters made history when they propelled Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto to victory in a tough race, sending the U.S. Senate its first Latina and keeping pugnacious Nevada Sen. Harry Reid’s seat in Democratic hands.
The retiring Reid recruited Cortez Masto, 52, and marshaled the resources of his sophisticated turnout “machine” to conjure up Democratic victories in Nevada that defied national election night trends.
She carried the race home in its final weeks with a dizzying schedule of events aimed at galvanizing younger and non-white voters against Donald Trump and her Republican opponent, Rep. Joe Heck, whom she portrayed as Trump’s ideological soul mate.
“It’s not just about making history,” she said at a Las Vegas victory party that featured famous norteno band Los Tigres del Norte. “Don’t you think it is about time that we had diversity in the U.S. Senate? Don’t you think it’s about time that our government mirrors the people we serve every day?”
Hispanics account for 28 percent of Nevada’s population.
Cortez Masto’s grandfather emigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico, and her mother’s family is Italian. Her father, Manny Cortez, parked cars at the Dunes hotel on the Las Vegas Strip before rising to leadership posts at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the Clark County Commission.
One of the most prominent Hispanic powerbrokers in Las Vegas at a time when the city was less diverse, Cortez helped set the stage for Las Vegas’ explosive recent growth.
Cortez Masto and her sister were the first in their family to graduate from college, and she went on to graduate with honors from Gonzaga University School of Law.
Her husband, Paul Masto, is a retired U.S. Secret Service agent who met her during one of then-President Bill Clinton’s visits to Las Vegas. She was chief of staff for Democratic former Nevada Gov. Bob Miller at the time and was tasked with coordinating logistics with Masto.
“He asked me out on a date and he said like a good attorney, I asked you out for dinner and you negotiated for lunch,” she recounted at a debate last month.
Miller described his former staffer as careful, thorough and methodical — someone who’s loyal and wins loyalty in return.
Cortez Masto also served as a federal criminal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., before serving eight years as Nevada’s attorney general. Many of her stump speeches focused on her role securing $1.9 billion in bailout relief for Nevada after the state was pummeled by the mortgage crisis.
Portraying herself as a bipartisan problem solver, Cortez Masto ran ads highlighting support from popular Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and touted her legislative effort to codify the crime of sex trafficking in Nevada.
A cautious campaigner who rarely ventured off-script, the somewhat reserved Cortez Masto is a stylistic opposite to Reid and his verbal flame-throwing.
“No one can be as candid and outspoken and fiery as Harry because they’re not Harry,” said Miller, who predicted Cortez Masto would take a workhorse approach to her new role.
Her victory comes as Democrats painstakingly courted Hispanic voters who are more likely to sit on the sidelines in elections. While Cortez Masto understands Spanish but can’t speak it, she campaigned alongside Mexican superstars such as Vicente Fernandez and garnered support from prominent immigration activists who served as her emissaries across language and cultural barriers.
“It really fills me with pride to know that Nevada will be sending a Senator to the U.S. Senate that will protect our families and that will continue fighting to keep our families together,” said Astrid Silva, who was brought to the country illegally as a child but has deportation relief through an Obama administration program for young immigrants.
Cortez Masto acknowledges that Trump’s presence in the presidential race helped mobilize voters in her competitive contest, prompting turnout surges in some of the most heavily Hispanic precincts in the state and helping flip two Republican House seats and both chambers of the Legislature into Democratic hands.
While she’ll be in the minority in a Republican-controlled Senate, she vowed to serve as a check and balance for President-elect Trump.
“Tonight, we celebrate,” she said at her victory speech. She added in Spanish: “Tomorrow, the struggle continues.”
Associated Press writer Felicia Mello contributed to this report.