Race for Nevada’s US Senate candidates too early to call

FILE - This combination of photos shows Nevada Republican Senate candidate Adam Laxalt speaking...
FILE - This combination of photos shows Nevada Republican Senate candidate Adam Laxalt speaking on Aug. 4, 2022, in Las Vegas, left, and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., speaking on April 26, 2022, in Washington, right. Democratic U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto faces Republican challenger Adam Laxalt in a race the national GOP considers one of its best opportunities to turn a blue Senate seat red. (AP Photo/John Locher, left, Jacquelyn Martin)(John Locher | AP)
Published: Nov. 9, 2022 at 6:28 AM PST
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RENO, Nev. (AP) — The nail-biting race between Democratic U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican challenger Adam Laxalt remained too early to call after polls closed across Nevada Tuesday night.

Laxalt and Cortez Masto have been locked in a tight race for weeks, both hitting hard on national party talking points: Laxalt blaming inflation and illegal immigration on Democratic policies, and Cortez Masto promising to block GOP-led attempts at a nationwide abortion ban and to fight for a pathway to permanent citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children.

Hours after the polls closed, both candidates told supporters that they expected to come out ahead.

“Our positive energy got us here today, and our positive energy is going to continue to flow this week,” Cortez Masto said from a Democratic watch party on the Las Vegas strip. “We are gonna get this done.”

Laxalt shared similar sentiments with Republicans gathered at another Las Vegas casino.

“We are exactly where we want to be in this race. We have a lot of votes coming in across the state yet,” Laxalt said. “We are going to win this race.”

Voters in some parts of the state braved long lines, bad weather and technical difficulties in making their choice. At about 7:15 p.m., Cortez Masto and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee filed an emergency request for a Nevada judge to keep some polling locations in Clark County open for an extra two hours. Attorneys for the DSCC cited printing problems that they said left some people unable to vote.

Clark County District Judge Gloria Sturman in Las Vegas denied the request, however. Polling places did remain open for people who were in line before 7 p.m.

The outcome of the Senate race between Laxalt and Cortez Masto could illustrate the potency of the Democratic Party’s focus on abortion against the economic woes frequently cited by the GOP.

Roughly three-fourths of Nevada voters say things in the country are heading in the wrong direction, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of nearly 2,200 voters in the state.

The economy was at the top of many Nevada voters’ minds, with about 5 in 10 calling it the most important issue facing the country. Immigration, abortion, crime and climate change followed behind, with about 1 in 10 voters naming each of those their top issue.

Voters also view the economy negatively, with nearly 8 in 10 saying economic conditions are either not so good or poor. Only about 2 in 10 call the economy excellent or good. And about a third of voters say their family is falling behind financially.

About 5 in 10 called inflation the single most important factor in deciding how to vote, according to the survey. But Nevada voters were about evenly split over whether they think inflation is due to President Joe Biden’s policies or factors outside his control.

Voters enshrined abortion rights into state law more than 30 years ago, and the state’s hospitality- and entertainment-dominated economy hasn’t rebounded as quickly as other sectors since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It all means high gas and grocery prices could dull the impact of Cortez Masto’s reproductive rights messaging.

Abortion is legal in Nevada, but Cortez Masto said she would use her seat to block any efforts in the Senate to advance a nationwide abortion ban. Laxalt has said abortion policy decisions should remain in the hands of the states, but also expressed support for a referendum that would restrict abortion after 13 weeks.

The Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that recognized a constitutional right to abortion, also played a role in most voters’ decisions, with nearly 8 in 10 calling it a factor in how they cast their ballot. About a quarter call it the single most important factor in their vote.

A majority of Nevada voters also express support for abortion rights, according to the poll, with about 7 in 10 saying it should be legal in either all or most cases.

Some swing voters in suburban regions could be put off by Laxalt’s close ties to former President Donald Trump. Laxalt co-chaired Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign in Nevada and later promoted and advanced lies about the election. Laxalt’s communication director Courtney Holland attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6 and was photographed with members of the Oath Keepers extremist group, including some who were later charged with insurrection-related crimes. Holland has said she left the event once she saw the rally was deteriorating.

Both candidates are working hard to gain votes from Nevada’s Spanish-speaking community. Latinos — which make up roughly four out of every 10 residents — might be as energized by Cortez Masto’s promises to find a pathway to permanent citizenship for “Dreamers” as they are frustrated with high gas and grocery prices caused by inflation. The election might become a case-study of sorts on the inroads the Republican Party has made with the Hispanic community.

Laxalt has said he would work to “finish the wall” on the nation’s southern border and that he supports a return to the “remain in Mexico” policy enacted by the Trump administration, which sent asylum-seeking migrants back across the Mexico border while they waited for a decision from U.S. immigration authorities.

Cortez Masto has clocked a lot of time courting the state’s hourly workers, aided in door-to-door campaign efforts by the powerful Culinary Union, whose roughly 70,000 members include bartenders, porters and housekeeping staffers.

Both sides have also flirted with misinformation along the way. A Cortez Masto ad targeting Spanish-speaking viewers took Laxalt’s words out of context to suggest that he’s happy some small businesses never recovered after the pandemic. But a look at his full remarks show that Laxalt was saying he believed it was good news that people would blame Democratic leaders and policies for the impact of some pandemic policies.

An Adam Laxalt advertisement wrongly claimed that when a local law enforcement officer was shot in the head during the George Floyd riots, Cortez Masto “didn’t say a word.” In fact, she condemned the violence on a social media account, calling it “tragic.” Another advertisement from a Republican political action committee repeated unsubstantiated claims from a prior campaign to falsely make it seem as if Cortez Masto “supported releasing drunk drivers.”

The candidates each come from powerful political families. Laxalt’s grandfather was former Nevada governor and U.S. Senator Paul Laxalt, and his father was former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici from New Mexico. Still, 14 members of Laxalt’s extended family endorsed Cortez Masto, lauding her “Nevada grit” in a public statement that did not mention Laxalt by name.

Cortez Masto’s father Manny Cortez served as a member of the Clark County Commission and was the longtime head of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, a government tourism agency led by a board made up of private resort industry members and local government officials.

Cortez Masto was Nevada’s attorney general from 2007 to 2015, before she became the first Latina elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016. Laxalt held the state attorney general’s post from 2015 to 2019, and unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018.