Leaning on Latino support, Cortez Masto casts ballot in east Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS — On the fourth day of early voting in Nevada's crucial midterm election, the nation's first Latina senator cast her ballot alongside dozens of supporters at a public library in the heart of the local Hispanic community.
After dropping off her ballot Tuesday afternoon, Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto shared a meal with her supporters at Mar Y Tierra around the corner from the East Las Vegas Library.
Many of the seats inside the family-owned restaurant were filled by construction workers and union casino employees who greeted the senator with a rumble of applause when she arrived.
Standing under an arched entrance painted bluish-green, Cortez Masto thanked the community for their support.
"I'm so excited to be here with all of you," she said, "because when we vote, we win."
Behind her, signs pinned around the arch embraced the first-term senator.
"¡Una de las nuestras!" some of the signs proclaimed. One of ours!
Cortez Masto, the daughter of a Las Vegas Strip casino worker, served two terms as Nevada's attorney general before her rise to Congress in 2016. Now, she's locked in a tight re-election race with Republican candidate Adam Laxalt, her one-term successor in the attorney general's office.
The net loss of a single blue Senate seat would give Republicans a majority, making Cortez Masto one of the most endangered Democrats this year in the upper chamber of Congress.
It's a high-stakes contest that has drawn national attention, and she and her opponent are virtually tied in the polls.
But even as the nation's eyes have turned toward Nevada, college sophomore Carolyn Salvador Avila is far more concerned with the issues facing Nevadans today.
At stake for the 18-year-old this November is reproductive freedom, climate change and immigrant rights. So, with Cortez Masto at her side on Tuesday, Salvador Avila, a pre-law student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, voted for the first time.
"It's so important to make sure that who's representing us is going to make our voices heard," she later told the USA Today Network outside Mar Y Tierra, "and I think the senator is representing the Hispanic community really well."
The daughter of a Chilean immigrant, Salvador Avila is part of Nevada's powerful Latino electorate, which represents 17% of the state's registered voters.
Nevada Assembly District 28, where she and the senator cast their ballots, and where Mar Y Tierra is located, is represented by immigration lawyer Edgar Flores, who was born to immigrants from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
At the restaurant Tuesday, Flores spoke in support of Cortez Masto's re-election bid.
In just one lifetime, Flores' father left Mexico, "raised the very child who did his immigration paperwork that made him a U.S. citizen," and will be able to cast a vote this cycle for the country's first and only Latina senator.
"That is what it means to be an American," he said. "That is what it means to be a Nevadan. And that is what's on the line at this exact moment.
Laxalt, who is endorsed by former President Donald Trump, has taken a hard-lined stance on illegal immigration. At campaign stops around Nevada, he's slammed Cortez Masto over immigrants streaming in through the southern border — a situation he's called “radical” and “dangerous.”
Asked earlier this month whether he supports a path to citizenship for young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, he told the Reno Gazette Journal in a written response: "Nevadans do not trust Washington DC to reform immigration laws until we stop the flow of illegal crossing at our southern border."
Back at the restaurant, in an effort to paint Laxalt as a danger to immigration reform, Flores turned the audience's attention to the busy street outside.
Flores explained that his father used to walk "these very streets" to get from one job to the other. Now, his father drives down Eastern Avenue, and when he does, he sees a red-and-white building bearing the family name: Gonzalez & Flores Law Firm.
"The very soul and heart of the American dream is on the line," Flores said, "and Catherine Cortez Masto must be re-elected to the U.S. Senate."
Early voting in Nevada kicked off on Saturday and ends Nov. 4, four days before the midterm election.