Seems I, and maybe many people, have been saying “Nevada” incorrect. I solely simply discovered the way to accurately pronounce it this summer time, throughout a late-morning meal with Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. We meet at one among her go-tos, the Las Vegas establishment Vickie’s Diner, a soda fountain–type spot off the Strip the place Elvis used to eat steak and eggs on the lengthy picket lunch counter that’s nonetheless in use as we speak. After she greets the diner’s namesake, Vickie Kelesis, whose household has owned the enterprise since round 1968, Cortez Masto sits down for our interview and a Vegas-size breakfast of eggs, hash browns, and a ham steak so large it will get its personal plate. In the course of answering a long-winded query I’ve requested her, she stops to appropriate me: “Nevada. It’s pronounced Ne-vad-uh,” she says. I’m caught so off guard that I fear I could have mentioned “New Mexico.”
“Oh no,” I reply, embarrassed at showing like an out-of-touch East Coaster. “What did I say?” In my head, all goes quiet save for the short-order cook dinner shuffling pots throughout his range about 10 ft away from us. Pausing to take a sip of her espresso, she politely repeats my incorrect pronunciation: “Nuh-vah-duh.” And now I clearly hear the nuh as an alternative of ne—as in Neve Campbell—and by no means once more will I make that mistake. The refreshing spontaneity of this abrupt lesson says so much concerning the unapologetic pleasure that Cortez Masto—a third-generation Nevadan—has for her house state. I’m fairly certain she’d even appropriate the pope, diplomatically, if he pronounced it incorrect. It’s additionally clear she’s snug asserting herself with a view to get her level throughout, even when it momentarily adjustments the temperature within the room. It’s a trait little doubt cultivated by years as a litigation lawyer, then because the state’s lawyer basic, and most not too long ago throughout her history-making first time period as a senator, the place she’s the physique’s first-ever Latina, and likewise the primary lady from Nevada elected to the U.S. Senate. “Catherine’s historic election broke an vital barrier,” says Senator Jacky Rosen, the second lady to be elected to the Senate from Nevada. “It impressed so many, notably girls of colour.”
On the eve of finishing her sixth 12 months in workplace, Cortez Masto is working for reelection in one of many costliest midterm races within the nation. It is usually one of many most-watched, rated as a toss-up by the Cook dinner Political Report and seen as having the potential, together with Senate contests in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, to shift the stability of energy in Congress’s higher chamber to the GOP. The stakes could also be particularly excessive for girls. “In 2017, after I first obtained to the Senate, had I not been there, the Republicans would have [had the votes to] repeal the Reasonably priced Care Act,” Cortez Masto remembers. And now? “Pay attention, Mitch McConnell already mentioned he would assist a federal abortion ban, and there’s little doubt in my thoughts my opponent can be a vote for that.”
That opponent, Adam Laxalt, who succeeded Cortez Masto as Nevada’s lawyer basic, is all the pieces she’s not: anti-abortion, anti-immigration, Trump-endorsed (he cochaired the previous president’s reelection marketing campaign within the state), and a 2020 election denier (he filed lawsuits to overturn the state’s outcomes). “It’s so vital that we elect individuals who not solely acknowledge the significance of our democracy, however respect our system of democracy and our authorities,” Cortez Masto says. “Our democracy, like in every single place world wide, is fragile within the sense that we’ve got to proceed to combat for it, from inside and with people who find themselves going to be that voice, who will arise for our beliefs.”
Her dedication to democracy was bolstered partly by having been on the Senate ground on January 6, 2021, when rioters stormed the Capitol. She was about to talk in assist of the electoral votes when she discovered a police officer had been tear-gassed. She and different senators have been moved to a much less weak location quickly thereafter. “We knew there was going to be a protest, however we’ve by no means seen protesters coming this shut,” the senator says. Cortez Masto, who’s married to a retired Secret Service agent, was particularly grateful to legislation enforcement for his or her steering that day. The primary time she noticed the officers after the breach, she thanked them and “began bawling, actually—I simply couldn’t maintain it in,” she remembers. “They have been those on the entrance strains for us, speaking us via all the pieces and guarding us.”
However regardless of the high-profile January 6 committee hearings and looming risk of potential indictments, few predict it to be a very good 12 months for Democrats. Midterms seldom are for the incumbent occasion, and President Biden’s approval score on the finish of July was at a historic low—38 p.c. To present herself a combating probability, Cortez Masto is leaning on what she’s completed domestically as she crisscrosses the state. She secured greater than $4 billion in COVID reduction for the tourism-dependent state; sponsored the Not Invisible Act to offer higher legislation enforcement coaching and assist for investigations of murdered, lacking, or trafficked Native American girls; and fought to maintain nuclear waste out of Yucca Mountain, an effort spearheaded by her highly effective predecessor, former Senate majority chief Harry Reid. “These issues are vital to constituents,” says Michele L. Swers, PhD, Georgetown College professor of American authorities and writer of Girls within the Membership: Gender and Coverage Making within the Senate. Swers additionally factors to Cortez Masto’s opposition to President Biden’s proposed lifting of Title 42, which prohibits entry of immigrants into the U.S. based mostly on potential well being dangers, for example of her tendency towards the reasonable wing of the occasion. “She’s in that group with Mark Kelly [of Arizona] and Maggie Hassan [of New Hampshire], who’ve troublesome election fights and need to be seen as centrist in what’s clearly going to be a Republican-leaning 12 months,” Swers provides.
There are some indications Cortez Masto’s efforts are serving to her construct a broad base. Through the second quarter of 2022, her common donation was $40, and 97 p.c of marketing campaign contributions have been $100 or much less. And she or he’s picked up some unlikely supporters. In June, the previous Republican county commissioner for rural Churchill County, an hour east of Reno, publicly endorsed her over Laxalt. Two native Republicans—one present mayor and one former—did in order effectively; in a press assertion explaining his endorsement, Nathan Robertson, mayor of Ely, Nevada (inhabitants estimate: 3,858), mentioned that “Catherine has earned our assist in rural Nevada by blocking new taxes on our mining trade and supporting funding for native infrastructure wants. I do know she’s going to proceed to work onerous within the Senate to champion points vital to all rural Nevadans.”
Cortez Masto can also be working to succeed in Latino voters, who made up almost 20 p.c of the state’s voters in 2020. In Nevada, as in lots of locations, Latino voters have shifted away from the Democratic Occasion since President Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012. In 2020, 59 p.c of Latino voters nationwide selected Biden, down from the 66 p.c who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. “Proper now, there’s a development among the many Latino inhabitants the place Democrats are dropping a few of these voters,” Swers says. “And so possibly Cortez Masto can lean on her personal background to attempt to win a few of these voters again.”
When the senator talks of the Latino vote, she is fast to notice what many perceive: “We aren’t a monolith.” In Nevada, the primary technology usually works within the service trade, she provides, whereas their kids steadily turn out to be important employees (“they’re doing different issues—it’s thrilling to see”). And the way she goes about securing their votes is not any completely different than for anybody else. “It’s about reaching out and simply speaking to households: What are the problems? What are your challenges? Letting them know who you’re, the place you come from, why that is vital for you,” she says. “I don’t like labels; it’s not about are you Hispanic, Latinx, Latino. Simply let’s have a dialog. I hear you; I see you; let’s interact.” And what she learns from these encounters is that “like with each different household, it’s the kitchen desk points which might be impacting them proper now,” she says. “They’re on the lookout for any person who’s going to be there with them, assist them, combat for them—somebody who understands them.”
“I don’t like labels; it’s not about are you Hispanic, Latinx, Latino. Simply let’s have a dialog. I hear you; I see you; let’s interact.”
Sonja Diaz, the founding director of the UCLA Latino Coverage & Politics Institute, says the Republican Occasion has made inroads with Latino voters in Texas, Florida, and elsewhere as a result of “they proceed to speculate cycle after cycle in making certain Latino candidates are on high of the ticket for vital races, together with the U.S. Senate with Marco Rubio. The Democrats haven’t likewise invested, to their peril: “In latest cycles, they haven’t put lots of Latino candidates entrance and middle in some open governor races and a few winnable Senate races,” Diaz says. She would additionally prefer to see the Democratic Occasion construct Cortez Masto’s nationwide profile, together with that of California senator Alex Padilla, the primary Latino to characterize California within the Senate, given they characterize massive swaths of important voters. “The occasion must be coalescing round each of them, sending them to vital battleground states and to the coasts in order that they are often the subsequent iteration of the occasion’s speaking heads and front-runners,” Diaz says.
It’s not onerous to think about Cortez Masto working bigger crowds and larger occasions. On the day we meet, she’s in full marketing campaign mode, shaking arms (at the least 200 within the hours we spent collectively, earlier than I misplaced depend) and asking people for his or her vote. She’s unintentionally matching the diner’s bubble-gum-pink upholstered cubicles in a fuchsia silk classic Liz Claiborne blazer that belonged to her eldest paternal great-aunt. “I put on it after I need to really feel a reference to my tia or household,” Cortez Masto says. She feels a connection to her father, Manny, who handed away in 2006, on the marketing campaign path, too. She remembers seeing him warmly greeting constituents at homespun diners identical to this when he served as county commissioner and later as the top of the tourism authority. (Earlier in life, he parked vehicles as an attendant on the once-legendary Dunes Resort and On line casino. “It’s simply one among these tales like all people else within the city,” Cortez Masto says. “It’s a very good place to make a dwelling, have a household, put a roof over your head, dwell the American Dream.”)
Her father, whose household was from Mexico and who was born in New Mexico earlier than transferring to Las Vegas at a younger age, labored each day of the week besides Sundays, which he usually devoted to house enchancment tasks, lots of which he tutored her on. “I discovered the way to set up a sprinkler system due to him,” she says. “After I obtained my very own home, I knew what to do.” His greatest recommendation for her profession in politics: Inform the reality when explaining her reasoning behind a vote. “He’d say, ‘Generally they’re not going to love your reply, however they’ll respect you in your honesty.’ ” Later in life, he and his buddies would increase cash for scholarships for teenagers. Cortez Masto notes with pleasure that he has a neighborhood college named after him, the Manuel J. Cortez Elementary College.
Like her father, Cortez Masto’s mom, Joanna, who’s third-generation Italian American and lives in Las Vegas, is self-made. “My dad and mom labored onerous as a result of they wished their youngsters to have alternatives,” the senator says. Her mother labored as a bookkeeper after highschool, and finally co-owned a number of small companies, together with a costume store and an escrow firm. “My household would say my father was very beloved and a dominant determine, however for those who requested them who was the boss, it might be my mom,” says Cortez Masto, who is known as for her mom’s mom.
Between her mother’s Italian facet and her father’s Mexican heritage, the household’s Sunday dinners have been scrumptious. “We grew up both having tortillas and frijoles, or meatballs and lasagna,” she says. “I grew up in a household the place the meals was so good, I don’t assume I ate in an Italian or Mexican restaurant.” Along with her work ethic and recipes, Cortez Masto says she and her sister, Cynthia, inherited her mom’s perception in “autonomy over your individual physique,” she says. Like many ladies throughout the U.S., Cortez Masto says she was “completely outraged” by the SCOTUS ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade. She rage-texted together with her equally apoplectic sister and mom, to commiserate with them over “the concept that any person would impose their beliefs or their experiences on another person and take away their alternative or their autonomy to make vital selections about their wants.”
In Nevada, the place the appropriate to have an abortion was codified into its structure in 1990, Cortez Masto is working with well being care suppliers to make sure they will meet the elevated demand as abortion restrictions and bans go in different states. “It’s vital that the state take each motion to not solely defend girls right here, however girls who’re coming to our state for these protections and the assets that we’ve got,” Cortez Masto says. On the federal stage, she’s launched laws defending the appropriate to cross state strains for abortion care in addition to information privateness legal guidelines that will safeguard in opposition to girls being digitally tracked for searching for to terminate a being pregnant. She additionally needs the U.S. Division of Well being and Human Companies to create a centralized hub for these searching for supplier assets and knowledge to navigate the complicated patchwork of restrictions throughout the nation. “We’ve to proceed to combat for what we’ve got labored so onerous for,” she says.
On the senator’s subsequent cease—the large MGM Grand Las Vegas Resort & On line casino, the place she’s assembly with members of Culinary 226, an influential union representing 60,000 employees in Vegas and Reno—it’s not reproductive rights that’s on individuals’s minds, however inflation. “What I say to them is, ‘I see it in my household. I replenish my gasoline tank, and so do my members of the family,’ ” Cortez Masto says. She additionally factors to her work on the Senate Finance Committee, the place she’s targeted on reducing well being care prices and rising inexpensive housing. “Pay attention, my Italian mom bakes and cooks, and I hear about it when a pound of floor spherical is $8 when she’s making her meatballs,” she says. “We see it and really feel it, and that’s why the work for me is so vital.” Her woman-of-the-people have an effect on and working-class upbringing, together with attending public college from kindergarten via highschool, earns her credibility on these points that her generationally rich opponent has a tougher time mustering. (Regardless of consistently decrying “the elites,” Laxalt comes from a political dynasty—his grandfather served as senator and governor of Nevada, and his father as a New Mexico senator; he was educated at personal colleges; and he earned thousands and thousands working on the powerhouse Washington, DC, legislation agency that when employed Senators Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton.)
Inside a large industrial kitchen the place 4,000 desserts are plated for a lunch service, and a workers cafeteria underneath the resort and on line casino that the majority company by no means see that feeds 2,500 workers each day, Cortez Masto shakes a whole bunch of arms over the course of almost two hours. She is in her component, sharing her household ties to the Strip: There’s her first cousin who labored in housekeeping; her grandfather who was a on line casino pit boss; an uncle who was a upkeep engineer; a cousin who was a cocktail waitress; nieces and nephews who work the entrance desks of massive motels. “It’s a connection from over time that I perceive not solely the good thing about the work, however the onerous work and challenges, and why we have to assist employees right here,” she says.
“Pay attention, my Italian mom bakes and cooks, and I hear about it when a pound of floor spherical is $8.”
Most of the conversations on the MGM are initiated by the senator, who confidently approaches safety personnel, cleansing crews, and even work associates seated collectively within the cafeteria consuming lunch, introducing herself with arm outstretched and asking repeatedly, “What do you do right here?” Then, after some chitchat, she closes with, “Thanks for making us look so good.” I ask if she ever loses her voice. She doesn’t, she says. As we depart, a girl in a housekeeping uniform leans over to her pal as they end their lunch and says, “That was so good she came to visit to say hello.”
Although Cortez Masto is now an extrovert—a job requirement—she wasn’t at all times so outgoing, in line with her sister. In highschool, she excelled academically and was sporty and outdoorsy, however “very a lot an introvert,” says Cynthia, who works as a center college counselor in Vegas. The senator’s ardour for service was instilled in childhood, Cynthia explains, recalling a time when her mom invited a coworker to maneuver in with them as a technique to get away from “a nasty house life and till she may get herself collectively.” The sisters grew near the girl, and the household’s gesture left an impression. One other reminiscence is of a two-week motor-home street journey to Yellowstone that went sideways with a breakdown, misplaced keys, floods, and a younger Catherine attracting all of the mosquitoes. “It was terrible, however we had a lot enjoyable,” Cynthia says. “Our mother and pa by no means obtained mad and would at all times simply discover one other approach, which is strictly how Catherine is. She doesn’t get mad; she says, ‘I’ll discover a completely different path.’”
Years later, the trail that Cortez Masto has chosen for herself is one which at its core has her bringing different girls alongside for the journey, whether or not via advocacy or illustration. “At a time after we’re combating again in opposition to unprecedented assaults on girls’s rights, Nevada and the nation have benefited from Catherine’s perspective and expertise,” says Senator Rosen, who gained her first congressional race, for the U.S. Home of Representatives, on the identical ticket as Cortez Masto in 2016.
There have solely ever been 58 girls elected to the U.S. Senate—Cortez Masto was the forty ninth. As she fights to carry on to her seat now, she is reflecting on why she’s there, and why it issues that she stays put. “As soon as I obtained to the Senate, I noticed there’s not lots of variety right here,” she says. Which is why one of many first issues she did after profitable her election was arrange a scholarship for first-generation faculty college students to intern at her workplaces in Nevada and DC. “There are challenges we face as Latinas and as girls, and we’d like extra illustration. I’m honored to make historical past, but it surely was extra about bringing these voices into the room the place we’re addressing and making coverage. [Those rooms] must be reflective of the nation and all people who lives right here. That’s how I really feel. For me, that’s what it’s about and why I do the work I do: It’s at all times about bringing these voices.”
This text seems within the October 2022 challenge of ELLE.