Nevada Democrats say Cortez Masto has bona fides to be on ticket with Biden


Kevin Wolf/Associated Press

Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., as her husband, Paul Masto, holds the Bible during a mock swearing-in ceremony in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017.

Sun, May 17, 2020 (2 a.m.)

It came as no surprise to former Sen. Harry Reid when he heard that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was considering picking Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto for his running mate.

Prior to succeeding Reid as one of Nevada’s senators, Cortez Masto served as the state’s attorney general, helping lead Nevada out of the Great Recession, Reid said. As the first Latina senator in the country, she has fought for clean energy and lead the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), which is charged with helping elect more Democrats to the Republican-controlled Senate, he added.

“Just look at her background,” Reid said, calling her “a woman of dignity.”

With Biden having pledged to pick a woman for his second-in-command, pundits and democratic strategists have named close to a dozen people rumored to be on his radar, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Cortez Masto has also frequently been mentioned.

If Cortez Masto were to serve as Biden’s running mate, it could bolster the former vice president’s chances of winning Latino voters, perhaps including those who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the primary election, said David Damore, the chair of political science at UNLV. It would also be the first time that a Latina and a politician from Nevada served as the nominee for president or vice president, according to UNLV history professor Michael Green.

Reid believes it would be good for Nevadans, too. He is confident that another Democrat would take her spot in the Senate were she to become vice president, he said.

“We have a pretty strong Democratic Party here and I think a Democrat would probably fill that seat, especially with Trump’s numbers down as low as they are,” Reid said.

Lalo Montoya, political director for the Latino advocacy group Make the Road Nevada, said having Cortez Masto as Biden’s running mate could help elevate issues impacting Nevada Latinos, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. Montoya pointed to the fact that she and Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., penned a letter in late April to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos demanding that she include undocumented college students as well as those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status in emergency federal aid programs during the pandemic.

“We’re seeing how her leadership is helping local communities at least get our voices heard so we can get some help,” Montoya said.

The Nevada Democratic Party is also on board with a Biden-Cortez Masto ticket. Party chair William McCurdy II said Cortez Masto would make a “fantastic” choice given her experience as a senator and as Nevada’s attorney general, her support for environmental protections and her “record of bipartisanship” in the Senate. As senator, she has cosponsored legislation with republican lawmakers to address first responder mental health and to boost affordable housing.

“Cortez Masto has brought great progress to our state, and as vice president, would be the advocate our country’s hardworking families deserve,” McCurdy said in a statement.

But there could be some drawbacks, at least from the standpoint of Democratic strategists, Damore said. The DSCC is an important committee from the perspective of the party, and no longer having her leadership there could be a loss, he said.

Having not yet finished her first term in the Senate, she also isn’t very well-known nationally, Damore said. In addition, there has been pressure from some wings of the party for Biden to pick a black woman, a more progressive candidate like Warren, or someone from a key swing state like Michigan or Wisconsin.

“We don’t think Nevada is going to be a swing state. Does it really matter much then?” Damore said.

Sondra Cosgrove, history professor at the College of Southern Nevada and president of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Nevada, said if Cortez Masto were to step down from the Senate to serve as Biden’s running mate, whoever replaced her would be starting “from square one” in terms of seniority. Cortez Masto has also served as an advocate in the Senate for Native American communities, so her leadership on that issue would be missed were she to step down, Cosgrove said.

“On the one hand, it’s good for Nevada, for our image, and it’s good for our standing in the federal government,” she said. “But that also means we lose her as a senator.”

Cortez Masto has given few public remarks about the possibility of her being the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee. But she endorsed Biden earlier this month and has said she is “flattered” to hear that she’s being considered. She declined to be interviewed for this story.

Her focus right now is on serving Nevada, especially as the state deals with the coronavirus pandemic, she recently said publicly. “Of course, Catherine can’t be running for vice president. She’s doing her job as senator,” Reid said. “She’s on the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. She’s got a lot to do.”

As for her chances of being picked, it’s hard to say, Damore said.

“Who knows? It’s a calculation,” he said. “I think she’ll make it through any vetting. I don’t think there’s anything else that would throw her off.”

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