Cortez Masto sees Georgia Senate races as key to Biden agenda, COVID aid for Nevada

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Steve Marcus

Joe Biden and Catherine Cortez Masto campaign together in October 2016 at a rally at the Culinary Workers Union, Local 226, headquarters. Biden is now president-elect, and Cortez Masto is in the U.S. Senate and helping to lead efforts to bring a Democratic majority to the chamber.

Tue, Jan 5, 2021 (2 a.m.)

Two months after the 2020 elections, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada is still in campaign mode. And she’s not even on a ballot.

As head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Cortez Masto has found herself on the front lines of two Senate runoff races in Georgia. Victories today by Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock over Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler would give Democrats control of the Senate with Kamala Harris, as vice president, casting tie-breaking votes.

For Democrats, including Cortez Masto, winning the Senate is the best way to further the agenda of Democrat Joe Biden, who will be sworn into office Jan. 20. Democrats already control the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Why I took on the DSCC is knowing that if we control the majority, we can do more for the state of Nevada in really supporting Biden and working (on) Biden’s agenda, which will help Nevadans who are struggling right now,” she said.

Front-and-center in that struggle is COVID-19 relief. Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have balked at any bailout of state and local governments whose treasuries were decimated during the early days of the pandemic when many businesses were shuttered. In Nevada, state lawmakers were called into special session in June to reconcile a $1.2 billion shortfall in the state’s 2020 budget after the tap of tax revenues from resorts and casinos went dry during a two-month shutdown. As the new year begins, lawmakers are looking at an additional $300 million shortfall in the state budget.

“We need an administration that is going to work with us, and we need a Congress that recognizes there are still needs out there that need to be addressed because of this pandemic,” Cortez Masto said.

Those needs, she said, extend beyond what was included in the stimulus package approved last month and signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Nevada’s issues, including housing insecurity, food security and unemployment levels, much of which can be linked to the state’s reliance on and the economic damage to the hospitality industry, give the Silver State a harder path to recovery than others, Cortez Masto said. Because of that, she has been pushing for additional relief for the hospitality industry, both here and nationwide.

“There is so much work that needs to be done in Nevada, and by really flipping the Senate we have the opportunity to do so,” she said.

If either of the Republican incumbents musters a win today in Georgia, the GOP will maintain control of the Senate and McConnell will continue to set the legislative agenda for the chamber, not Democrats or the Biden administration. That, Cortez Masto said, will lead to “gridlock and dysfunction” in the Senate for at least the next two years, when midterm elections are scheduled.

Nevada’s junior Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen said in a statement that “a Democratic Senate would work with President-elect Biden to make sure families, workers and small businesses get the support they need to survive this pandemic and build back better.”

Ken Miller, an assistant professor of political science at UNLV, said a Democratic Senate majority would give Nevada’s senators the ability to exert more of a say in how legislation is drawn up at the committee level.

“I think where it could help out, especially in the case of Nevada, is you have two senators representing our state who are relatively young senators, in their first term, and they’re in the minority party,” he said. “If Senate control flips, now all of a sudden they’re sitting on committees where they have majority control of those committees.”

Cortez Masto said the DSCC was working with both the Georgia Democratic Party and the campaigns of Warnock and Ossoff after none of the Senate candidates in Georgia received a majority of the vote in the November elections, forcing today’s runoffs.

“Right after the (November) election our focus then was, OK, let’s focus on the ground game. We spent $5 million on behalf of the DSCC going into Georgia to make it competitive because we saw that opportunity there. Now with the support of the DSCC, the Democrats have built a multimillion-dollar coordinated campaign in Georgia,” Cortez Masto said.

Getting the Democratic vote out is the key in Georgia.

“It is all of the canvassing, where we can do it safely; it is the phone banking; it’s everything that we need to do not only to focus on key voters there, but also we have an opportunity to register new voters, and we did,” she said.

The effort appears to be working.

As of Monday morning, according to figures from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. more than 2 million Georgians had cast early ballots in in-person voting and another 967,000 had submitted absentee ballots by mail. The combined 3 million votes cast represents about 40 percent of the state’s electorate ahead of Election Day — numbers that were bolstering Cortez Masto’s and Democratic hopes.

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