Former Nevada AGs Laxalt and Cortez Masto Compare Performances in Key Senate Race

Nevada Republican Adam Laxalt is challenging incumbent Democrat Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in one of the nation’s most pivotal—and expensive—tossup showdowns of the 2022 midterms.

At stake on Nov. 8 in the Laxalt-Cortez Masto contest, according to an array of analyses and projections, is control of the now-split U.S. Senate in 2023. 

Both campaigns have staked out partisan territory that would be familiar to voters nationwide. 

Laxalt is pounding away at Cortez Masto and President Joe Biden on economic uncertainties, inflation, and energy policy, while also appealing to fellow veterans on national security issues. 

“Not $5. Not $6. But $7 gas prices seen in Reno!” Laxalt said in a Twitter post on Oct. 4. “Nevada still has the 2nd highest gas prices in the country & Nevadans, the majority of which commute, are forced to pay these prices. America could be energy independent but @CortezMasto & Biden are doing everything to prevent this.”

First-term incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) addresses members of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers union at their 40th Grand Lodge Convention in Las Vegas on Oct. 3, 2022. (Courtesy Catherine Cortez Masto for Senate)

Cortez Masto touts the administration’s response to rising food and fuel costs, telling voters, “I passed the Inflation Reduction Act to cut costs, boost our economy, and create good-paying local jobs for Nevadans.” while vowing to defend access to abortion and accusing Laxalt of being an election denier.

“@AdamLaxalt and his extreme anti-choice allies have no business telling women what they can and can’t do with their bodies. He doesn’t stand for Nevada, and we will not let him drag us backwards,” Cortez Masto said in a Twitter post.

But the race, among four key Senate races nationwide that could determine which party holds the chamber majority beginning in January, may pivot on how both candidates performed as Nevada’s attorney general.

Cortez Masto was the state’s attorney general 2006-14 before winning a Senate seat in 2016. Laxalt succeeded her, serving as Nevada’s top law enforcement officer 2014-18.

Both candidates are trotting out their law enforcement endorsements as evidence of their proficiency and commitment to fighting crime while serving as Nevada AG.

Cortez Masto has been endorsed by the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers, Nevada Law Enforcement Coalition, and Reno Police Chief Jason Soto. This week, she was endorsed by the Nevada Police Union, whose 735 members work within the Nevada State Police, Nevada Department of Wildlife, Nevada State Parks, Nevada Department of Agriculture, and the Nevada System of Higher Education. 

“Sen. Cortez Masto understands the critical needs of our peace officers and is actively working to ensure we have what we need to do our jobs every day,” Dan Gordon, president of Nevada Police Union, said in a statement. “She is solutions-focused and has a record of crossing the aisle to deliver resources for the police officers who serve our state, and that’s why we’re with her.”

The nod is somewhat of a coup for Cortez Masto because the Nevada Police Union has usually endorsed Republican candidates, including former Senator and Congressman Dean Heller in the 2022 GOP primary against Laxalt.

“Both as Nevada’s attorney general and in the Senate, I have worked with law enforcement to ensure our officers have the resources they need to keep our communities safe,” Cortez Masto said in a statement. “As our state’s top law enforcement officer, I worked hand-in-hand with police to keep Nevadans safe. In the Senate, I’ve kept up the fight to support their work. I’m proud to have the endorsement of @NVPoliceUnion.”

Laxalt has also received a bushel of endorsements, including from former President Donald Trump, key to his primary win. Among law enforcement agencies backing his campaign is the Nevada Fraternal Order of Police, the Public Safety Alliance of Nevada, the National Association of Police Organizations, and the National Border Patrol Council.

Laxalt maintains Cortez Masto is “dangerous for police and dangerous for Nevada” in stump speeches and statements, noting that “95 percent” of the state’s law enforcement officers support him.

The Public Safety Alliance of Nevada by itself represents more than 10,000 law enforcement officers and more than 100 state and local organizations.

The alliance had initially endorsed Cortez Masto, but after Laxalt won the GOP primary, it joined the Las Vegas Police Protective Association and Nevada Fraternal Order of Police in aligning behind the Republican.

Cortez Masto “chooses to stand with radical leftists over law enforcement, which is why over 95 percent of Nevada’s police have switched their endorsements to our campaign,” he said in an Oct. 4 Twitter post. “I will always support our brave men and women in blue.”

Laxalt has rehashed criticism of Cortez Masto’s performance as AG that dogged her 2018 campaign when she outpolled Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) to win retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) seat, making her the first Latina ever elected to the U.S. Senate.

After her eight years as Nevada AG, the Joyful Heart Foundation, a Brooklyn, New York-based nonprofit that advocates on behalf of sexual assault and domestic violence victims, documented that just 16 percent of the 5,231 rape kits collected in Las Vegas from 2004-13 were examined, leaving nearly 4,400 untested kits in the city and more than 7,500 untested across the state.

While running for attorney general in 2014, Laxalt made a pledge to “clear up the backlog” a central point in his campaign. Shortly after assuming office in 2015, he did just that, securing a $3.7 million federal grant to send nearly 7,400 untested kits to labs.

Former Washoe County District Attorney Dick  Gammick, in an Oct. 4 Reno Gazette Journal column, wrote that during his 30-year tenure he endorsed Cortez Masto several times, but he’s going with Laxalt this time around because he did what Cortez Masto failed to do as attorney general.

Laxalt “increased protections for victims of domestic violence, expanded resources for victims, and worked with law enforcement to process more than 8,000 rape kits from Nevada’s backlog, which had left victims waiting for justice for years before action was taken,” he wrote. “Processing these rape kits led to the conviction of serial rapists and murderers who had been on the loose for years before Adam took initiative as attorney general.”

The Cortez Masto-Laxalt race is ranked uniformly by analysts as among the four most competitive of the 35 U.S. Senate 2022 midterm contests this fall. Cortez Masto’s Senate seat is among 14 held by Democrats and 21 occupied by Republicans on November ballots across the country.

Democrats now control 50 U.S. Senate seats, including two independents who caucus with the party. Republicans also control 50 seats. Both parties believe they can win a majority in November with Cortez Masto termed the Senate’s “most vulnerable” incumbent by Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

Of eight analytic forecasts, all say the race is a tossup. FiveThirtyEight had rated the state as “lean Democratic” but has since joined the tossup chorus.

 Surveys appear to confirm those analytic projections with Laxalt posting 1-to-4 percentage point leads in September likely-voter polls. RealClearPolitics’ poll average has Laxalt ahead by 2.2 percentage points, but notes that number is well within the margin of error.

The polls, while inconclusive, appear to indicate that the bump in enthusiasm Cortez Masto received in the wake of the June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade may have waned. According to a statewide Suffolk University/Reno Gazette Journal survey of 500 likely voters, she led Laxalt by 7 percentage points, in mid-August.

Between both candidates and national groups, the race has drawn more than $130 million in campaign contributions and will likely top $200 million by Election Day. It is the midterms’ second-most expensive Senate election behind Georgia, where the race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and GOP challenger Herschel Walker could surpass $500 million in spending.

The ad tracking company AdImpact reported this week that despite an influx of spending by national Republican groups in the race, Democrats have outspent the GOP in Nevada $78 million to $52 million.

As in many key races where incumbent Democrats face strong Republican challengers, Cortez Masto’s campaign has significantly outraised Laxalt. As of July 1, her campaign had raised $30.1 million to Laxalt’s $7.3 million, according to their Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings. The next FEC filing deadline is Oct. 15. 

Laxalt’s campaign has been boosted by at least $3.9 million in advertisements since Oct. 1 from the Club for Growth, which spent $3.2 million on the race in September. 

Cortez Masto’s campaign is flouting its financial advantage over Laxalt, releasing an Oct. 3 statement announcing a “record-setting” haul of more than $15 million between the beginning of July and the end of September from more than 170,000 donors in pledges averaging $44 each. Her campaign had $5 million in cash on hand on Oct. 1.

Early in-person voting in Nevada begins on Oct. 22 and ends Nov 4. Requested mail-in ballots must be in the mail by Oct. 19. Nevada is one of 23 states that allows citizens to register to vote anytime, including on Election Day.

From The Epoch Times

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