LAS VEGAS (AP) — Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto won election to a second term representing Nevada on Saturday, defeating Republican Adam Laxalt to clinch the party’s control of the chamber for the next two years of Joe Biden’s presidency.
With Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly’s victory in Arizona on Friday, Democrats now hold a 50-49 edge in the Senate. The party will retain control of the chamber, no matter how next month’s Georgia runoff plays out, by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote.
Democrats’ hold on the Senate is a blow to Republicans’ high hopes of wresting away control of Congress in a midterm election that typically favors the party out of power. It was still unclear which party would control the House of Representatives as counting continued in razor-tight races in California and a smattering of other states.
Cortez Masto, the first Latina in the Senate, was considered the most vulnerable Democratic senator in the midterm elections, and the Republican Party had high hopes of flipping the seat. But despite an influx of spending on attack ads from national GOP groups, Cortez Masto managed to secure her reelection bid.
Nevada’s vote count took several days partly because of the mail voting system created by the state Legislature in 2020 that requires counties to accept ballots postmarked by Election Day if they arrive up to four days later. Laxalt had an early lead that dwindled after late-counted ballots came in from the state’s population centers in Las Vegas and Reno.
Cortez Masto, the state’s former two-term attorney general, focused her Senate campaign on the increasing threat to abortion access nationwide and worked to court the state’s Spanish-speaking residents and hourly wage earners, pointing out her support of a permanent pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers” and regularly visiting union halls and workers’ groups.
Her fundraising far outpaced Laxalt’s. She spent nearly $47 million and had more than $6 million in cash on hand through mid-October, according to OpenSecrets. Laxalt spent nearly $13 million and had about $3 million remaining during the same time.
Laxalt, a former Nevada attorney general himself who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018, focused on rising inflation and a struggling economy for much of his campaign, attempting to tie voters’ financial woes to policies advanced by Democrats in Congress and Biden.
Former President Donald Trump, who twice lost Nevada in his White House runs, came to the state twice to rally for Laxalt and other Republican candidates.
Democrats had an uphill battle given the nation’s turbulent economy, and Nevada exemplified the party’s challenges. The state is one of the most diverse in the nation, and its largely working class population often lives paycheck to paycheck and has struggled with both inflation and the aftershocks of the shutdown of Las Vegas’ tourist-based economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Roughly three-fourths of Nevada voters said the country is headed in the wrong direction, and about 5 in 10 called the economy the most important issue facing the country, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of 2,100 of the state’s voters.
Voters viewed the economy negatively, with VoteCast finding nearly 8 in 10 saying economic conditions are either not so good or poor. Only about 2 in 10 called the economy excellent or good. And about a third of voters said their families are falling behind financially.
But that didn’t necessarily translate into anger at President Joe Biden or his party. About half considered inflation the most important issue facing the U.S., but they were evenly split over whether they think higher prices are due to Biden’s policies or factors outside his control.
Nevada is also a famously live-and-let-live state, and Cortez Masto’s message on preserving abortion rights resonated. According to VoteCast, 7 in 10 wanted the procedure kept legal in all or most cases.
Associated Press writer Scott Sonner in Las Vegas contributed to this report.