It’s a powerful message, some say, in a swing state that guaranteed access to abortion by an overwhelming popular vote more than 30 years ago.
GOP strategists say they aren’t worried, however. Speaking the next day in Las Vegas, Republican Senate candidate Adam Laxalt sent the same message Republicans hammered home nationwide: Gasoline prices are skyrocketing, he said, and the party in power is responsible for it.
“We need someone who will actually stand up for Nevada when the Biden administration pulls us away from energy independence, gives us gas at an all-time high, all of those things that we face every day,” Laxalt said, a former state attorney. general who lost a bid for governor four years ago.
With a large number of working-class voters, a fragile tourism ecosystem, and some of the highest inflation rates in the nation, Nevada will be a stark test of Democrats’ efforts to counter the GOP’s overriding economic message, especially among Latino voters. Nearly one-fifth of Nevadans who voted in 2020 were Hispanic or Latino, and Republicans hope to further reduce Democrats’ advantage with this group. The contest pits Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the Senate, against Laxalt, who comes from a prominent political family. 50-50 Senate control is at stake.
Like other Democratic incumbents facing tough re-election fights, Cortez Masto criticizes ‘Big Oil’ distancing himself from President Biden and trying to highlight other issues — among them abortion and former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent.
Laxalt promoted baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud as co-chairman of Trump’s Nevada re-election campaign, and as a Senate candidate he continued to question whether Biden had won the state. Trump endorsed him as a leader who “valiantly fought voter fraud.” But Laxalt is focusing on other matters as the general election nears; Trump, the VIP guest at his July 8 event in Las Vegas, was the only person to mention the 2020 election from the stage.
Laxalt celebrated the fall of Roe vs. Wade and lamented Nevada’s broad support for abortion access. But he says the issue is “established law” in his state, echoing other Nevada Republicans who see a losing battle for their party. His campaign declined to say whether he would support federal abortion restrictions.
Pollsters and agents from all parties agree: economic issues are top of mind for most voters.
“If the race was all about simply persuading the undecided, I think that scale would lean heavily towards Laxalt, just based on who the undecided are and what they think of President Biden,” said David Paleologos, director of policy research from the University of Suffolk. Center, which tracked voter opinions in Nevada.
But “if the race hinges on turnout and GOTV based on important issues like abortion … then it could favor ‘Cortez Masto,'” he added, referring to campaign efforts to get the vote.
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Inflation levels rose at their fastest pace in 40 years, fueling fears that the Federal Reserve’s actions to lower prices could trigger a recession. The consumer price index last month was more than 9% higher than a year ago. And experts said economic downturns have generally hit hardest in Nevada, where the coronavirus pandemic and business closures have been particularly devastating for the tourism industry.
Those economic concerns, combined with low approval ratings for Biden, have put Democrats like Cortez Masto on the defensive. The word “inflation” does not appear on the senator’s campaign website. When asked what she thinks of the White House’s efforts to solve people’s economic problems, Cortez Masto neither praised nor criticized, and focused on Republicans. She won’t answer questions about whether she’s backing Biden for re-election, telling reporters she’s focused on his condition.
Laxalt’s platform promises to boost supply chains and “restore sanity by stopping the spending spree.” In a statement to The Washington Post, Laxalt called Nevada “ground zero” for “Bideninflation.” Biden and Cortez Masto’s “decision to pump trillions of dollars into an already overheated economy has created a massive demand imbalance, driving up the prices of everyday goods,” he said.
Republicans opposed to last year’s $1.9 trillion U.S. bailout package, which included child tax credit extensions and stimulus checks, had warned it would increase inflation. Experts say the checks have driven prices up, although they debate how much.
Cortez Masto is promoting the 2021 relief package as part of its efforts to help workers during the pandemic and secure funding that has helped restore lost jobs in Nevada. At an event in Las Vegas with members of the Teamsters union, she said she would push for lower prices – touting her support for legislation to cap insulin costs, negotiate prices prescription drugs and to scrutinize “the big oil companies that are inflating the prices for our families. ”
“I’m looking for people to work with, not an adversary who will diagnose [the problem] and use it for political purposes,” Cortez Masto told reporters after his event in Reno.
The record advantage of Democrats over Republicans in Nevada increased around the 2008 election cycle, when Barack Obama decisively won the state, but has declined in recent years. In June, the registration gap was less than four percentage points, compared to almost six percentage points in the same month in 2018 and almost eight points in 2014.
GOP strategist Jeremy Hughes said the registration change should sound alarm bells for Democrats. Biden won Nevada by roughly two percentage points in 2020, the same margin by which Cortez Masto won his Senate race in 2016.
“The political winds are very much in our favor,” said TW Arrighi, spokesman for the Republican National Senate Committee, who called Nevada the best pick-up opportunity.
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Cortez Masto has invested heavily in reaching out to Nevada’s many Latino voters, a demographic Biden won by 26 percentage points in the state in 2020. His campaign began running ads in Spanish in March and this month. ci drew hundreds of people to a community center gymnasium. for a Friday night party with loud music and tables for Latin American countries and Mexican states. The senator joined those on the dance floor.
Megan Jones, a Nevada operative working with the Democratic-aligned Senate-majority PAC, said Republicans are “still catching up” with the Latino community. But Republican operatives argued they could make further inroads in this cycle after Trump garnered support from Latino voters from 2016 to 2020. Inflation was the most frequently cited top concern in a national Axios- Ipsos among Hispanic and Latino adults in March, a significant change. since late last year when the main response was covid-19.
Staff and volunteers from Operación ¡Vamos!, a national Republican initiative of Latino voters, knocked on doors to ask people about their biggest worries — often inflation, employees say — and drop off pamphlets outlining support from the GOP to “religious freedoms”. family values” and “entrepreneurship”.
Strolling through a Las Vegas mall with his wife and daughter, Roy Padilla, 53, said he didn’t know who he would vote for in the Senate race, even though he had already applied for Cortez Masto. He thinks the Biden administration could do more to solve the country’s problems.
“If Laxalt has a good story behind what it’s trying to do — I mean, what we’re trying to do is grow that economy,” said Padilla, who works security at a casino.
Jazmine Johnson, 26, said she doesn’t blame any particular party for the inflation that has driven up her grocery bills and led her boyfriend to drive less. Selling skincare products at the mall, she had little interest in politics – then brought up abortion unprompted.
Some leaders want “to punish women who want an abortion even though there is no heartbeat, there is no brain, it is literally a cell”, she said. When asked if she knew that Nevada law protects the procedure, she replied, “For now.” She said she would likely vote for Cortez Masto because of her stance on abortion.
Cortez Masto also sought to draw attention to Laxalt’s role in efforts by Trump allies to reverse his 2020 election defeat. Many strategists are skeptical that the topic will register among voters concerned about the kitchen table issues, but it’s been a turnoff for some Republicans, like Nathan Robertson, a rural Nevada mayor.
Robertson said he listened in horror to the House committee hearings on the storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob and was appalled by Laxalt’s acceptance of Trump’s grievances. He also likes that Cortez Masto opposes taxes on the mining industry and helps fund infrastructure. At the end of last month, he approved it.