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Nevada Senate Race Hinges on Turnout, Latinos

By Susan Crabtree, RealClearWire

Amid the onslaught of negative ads and accusations on both sides in the bitterly fought Nevada Senate race, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s closing argument includes an urgent but practical message to supporters.

During stops at the Great Las Vegas Taco Festival, while celebrating Diwali with Hindus, and at a variety show with the Filipino community, Cortez Masto stressed the importance of early voting. In such a tight race, it could determine whether she wins or loses, as well as the balance of power in Washington.

Nevada allows voters to send in their ballots or drop them off in person for roughly two weeks before Election Day. It’s useful for both parties to get votes banked early. Bad weather and other factors can keep people away from the polls on Election Day. High-tech tracking systems also can show which voters have cast their ballots early, allowing campaigns, outside groups, and parties to target a smaller set of voters with final door knocks, phone calls, and texts.

Republicans, however, are less trusting of mail-in and early voting after President Trump and other Republicans assailed the system as unreliable in the 2018 and 2020 elections. Many Republicans nationwide are now worried their assaults on early voting could ultimately suppress GOP turnout in a cycle that will decide who controls the House and Senate and many governor offices across the country.

Meanwhile, Democrats are using every opportunity to hammer home their early voting message. Indeed, several lecterns Cortez Masto or her surrogates spoke from over the last week were emblazoned with a turquoise sign reminding supporters to vote early and highlighting a link to a website, paid for by the Democratic National Committee, that allows voters to search for the nearest ballot drop-off locations in every state based on their address and zip code.

In a political climate full of headwinds for Democrats, voters’ increased comfort level with early voting is one area where the party believes they have an advantage in closely fought races like Nevada’s. As of Sunday, a slight Democratic lead in early voting seemed the one bright spot for Cortez Masto, one of the most imperiled Senate Democratic incumbents this cycle. After running a neck-and-neck race all summer, a series of recent polls show Republican challenger Adam Laxalt in the lead despite a last-minute trip by former President Obama to help boost Cortez Masto’s chances.

The last week has been an emotional rollercoaster for both campaigns. On Tuesday, the Emerson College/The Hill poll showed Laxalt, an Iraq war veteran and the grandson of the late Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt, with a 5% lead over Cortez Masto among very likely voters, the same topline finding of a Susquehanna poll. An InsiderAdvantage survey conducted Friday had Laxalt up 6%, giving him a 2.4% overall advantage in the RealClearPolitics average of polls heading into the final stretch.

When early voting wrapped up in Nevada on Friday, it appeared that enthusiasm was lagging among Democratic voters. The Democrats led by just 1% in early in-person voting, or just 5,200 ballots, spelling trouble for Cortez Masto and the rest of the party’s chances, according to Jon Ralston, a longtime Nevada political analyst, who has accurately predicted numerous presidential, Senate, House, and gubernatorial races in the perpetual swing state.

But after Saturday’s updated early ballot count, Democratic vote totals increased, giving the party an 8,000-vote advantage. Republicans now must have a heavy Election Day turnout for Laxalt to prevail, and there is rain and snow forecast for much of the state.

“Considering all the headwinds the Dems face this cycle, it’s almost amazing they are even in the game,” Ralston wrote. “Turnout, of course, remains key.”

Latino turnout is crucial in a state where those of Latino or Hispanic ancestry make up 28.3% of the population, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. Cortez Masto made history in 2016 as the first Latina elected to the Senate and would seem to have a natural advantage among the critical demographic, but polls in Nevada have varied wildly. A late-October Echelon Insights poll showed Laxalt besting Cortez Masto among Latinos, 56% to 40%, while the survey overall had them tied.

Another poll by CBS/YouGov found nearly the opposite, with 58% of Latinos backing Cortez Masto and just 40% supporting Laxalt. Meanwhile, a late-October Univision poll, which has spurred criticism on the right, found Cortez Masto leading among Latinos registered to vote, 60% to 27%. The poll found white voters overwhelmingly supported Laxalt by a 16-point margin: 51% to 35%.

The Laxalt campaign has aggressively pursued the Latino vote this year, investing more than $1 million in television, radio, digital, and mail advertising aimed at Latinos and Spanish speakers.

The ads, running in Spanish, focus on crime, inflation, gas prices, rising rents, and mortgage rates. The Latino community across Nevada was hard-hit by COVID mandates, with many workers on the Las Vegas Strip forced from their jobs during pandemic lockdowns. Spikes in housing, food, and gas costs have exacerbated economic woes for Latinos and other minorities across the country. Nevada had the fourth highest gas prices in the country in late October, according to gasbuddy.com.

The Laxalt campaign decided to focus on Hispanics in early March after a poll from a Democratic firm, Blueprint Polling, showed Nevada Latino voters wary of Biden, with Laxalt and Cortez Masto tied among the key demographic but with a large number – 23% – of undecideds.

The effort appeared to have paid off. A Suffolk University poll for USA Today released in mid-October showed that Cortez Masto’s lead among Latinos had shrunk from 18 points in August to seven points. David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, at the time said Laxalt’s economic message seemed to be resonating with Latino voters, with 48% of that demographic ranking the economy/inflation as the number one issue, higher than whites (43%) and blacks (23%).

Cortez Masto has run several TV ads in Spanish and held numerous Latino outreach events of her own. She can also count on the powerful Culinary Workers Union, which represents tens of thousands of hospitality workers in Las Vegas and Reno, to help with the final get-out-the-vote push. The union says it has already knocked on 800,000 doors as of Wednesday with plans to hit an unprecedented 1 million doors by Election Day. (During the 2020 election, the union’s canvassers knocked on 650,000 doors.)

“No voter believes the Republicans are going to take on massive Wall Street landlords who are stealing our homes and ruining our neighborhoods,” Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union, said in a statement. “Workers do not believe that Republicans, who are getting rich off record oil profits and prescription drugs, are going to take on Big Oil or Big Pharma.”

Neither side is taking the Latino vote for granted in the final days. Laxalt’s bus tour through the state made a stop Saturday afternoon at the Nevada GOP Latino Office in Las Vegas. The same day, Cortez Masto joined Edgar Flores, a state assemblyman, on a get-out-the-vote “Cabalgata,” a parade with many participants in native Central and South American dress riding horses.

“By car, by bus, or on horseback – it doesn’t matter how you get to the polls. Get there and vote!” Cortez Masto said Saturday in a Facebook post with colorful photos from the event.

Earlier in the week, Laxalt told Fox Business’ Larry Kudlow that he’s gaining among Latinos because of crime, COVID lockdowns, inflation, and gas prices, as well as lower performances in elementary math and reading scores in Nevada and the nation as a whole.

“Hispanic voters have every reason on earth to break from Catherine Cortez Masto in this race,” he said. “…But it’s very close … this thing is going to be a barnburner. We’re certainly going to fight all the way to the end.”

About The Author

Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics’ White House/national political correspondent.

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