Nevada Senate race on knife’s edge as majority hangs in the balance

Elections 2022

Republicans and Democrats are on tenterhooks as results from the Nevada Senate race trickle in, with both parties expressing optimism that they’ll prevail in a race that will help determine who holds a narrow majority in the upper chamber.

Democrats feared that a favorable political environment for Republicans, coupled with the ever-present issue of inflation in the tourism-dominated economy, would thwart Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s (D-Nev.) chances of reelection. But their mood has shifted as ballots counted in the counties of Clark and Washoe appear poised to help the senator close the gap with her GOP rival Adam Laxalt. Republicans, meanwhile, remain bullish that Laxalt will eke out a win.

Both parties are now playing the waiting game after local officials said counting will continue for several days. Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria predicted that by Saturday about 90 percent of ballots there would be counted. 

“Based on the votes that are left to count, there’s more vote to be counted in the rural areas of the state, there is a lot of Election Day drop box vote to be counted in Clark [County], and Republicans think that when all of it is tallied, Adam Laxalt will come out on top,” said one GOP strategist.

But Democrats and allied groups were similarly hopeful.

“We’re very optimistic and also proud of ourselves for the work we did throughout the cycle to get Latinos out to vote,” said Cecia Alvarado, Nevada executive director of Somos Votantes, a group that engages Latino voters and who endorsed Cortez Masto’s reelection bid. The group knocked on more than 1 million doors in the state alone.

Cortez Masto is fighting for a second term in the Senate after making history in 2016 as the first Latina senator. A former state attorney general and the daughter of a four-term Clark County commissioner, she won her election by just more than 2 percentage points six years ago.

Laxalt, also a former state attorney general and the 2018 GOP gubernatorial nominee who lost to Gov. Steve Sisolak (D), had enjoyed a slew of polls in recent weeks showing him edging out Cortez Masto. Many across the political spectrum agreed the race was a true toss-up, with Republicans holding the edge. But others — including some Republicans — said the race was always going to go down to the wire.

“I actually found that hard to believe that she was the most vulnerable,” said former Nevada GOP Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian, referring to Cortez Masto. “I completely disagree with that. I think she’s probably one of the most difficult to beat.”

“And the reason being is she has strong family roots in the state of Nevada. Her father was a very powerful county commissioner in Clark. She also was an attorney general, she’s very calculated. She doesn’t go off of script, so to speak, she doesn’t do anything crazy to bring attention to herself. And she also had the support of [former Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid before he passed away.” 

Now both campaigns are waiting for the results to come in, which could stretch into early next week given the fact that ballots postmarked by Election Day can be received through Saturday. 

As of Friday morning, Laxalt led the senator by just less than 9,000 votes. Cortez Masto was ahead of Laxalt by over 336000 votes in Clark County and by just over 3,000 votes in Washoe, though many more still need to be counted.

Democrats and political observers alike, however, believe that the senator has a good chance of holding on for a second term after a batch of results from both counties on Wednesday showed Cortez Masto holding comfortable leads over Laxalt. Still, it’s unclear how those margins will hold in future reported batches.

“Looking at the numbers that continue to come in & we’re on track to win. CCM has been winning mail ballots 2-1 in Clark, which just cut Laxalt’s lead by 5k votes. There are 57k Dem-heavy votes in Clark County dropboxes + thousands of mail ballots that will come in through Sat,” tweeted Cortez Masto campaign spokesperson Josh Marcus-Blank on Wednesday, referring to the senator’s initials.

Even political observers like Cook Political Report editor Dave Wasserman suggested Wednesday’s ballot batches gave Democrats reason to be optimistic. He said the party has an “excellent chance” of heading into the Georgia runoff with a Senate majority already in place.

While the counties of Washoe and Clark went for President Biden in 2020 by 5 and 9 points respectively, the GOP strategist who requested anonymity said he “absolutely” still felt optimistic Laxalt could pull off a win. 

“He’s actually ran a very impressive campaign. I know both Catherine and Adam, and so Adam is the one politician that had the largest Rolodex that I’ve ever encountered, and he had everything going for him — financially, endorsement-wise. I mean, he had people who even don’t like each other endorse him. He had both Senator Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. So I mean, that’s impressive,” Tarkanian, the former state GOP chairwoman, said.

“I think at the end of the day, he should be very proud of himself,” she added.

Updated Friday at 6:46 a.m.

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