Control of the U.S. Senate is expected to come down to a handful of states, including Nevada, a rare Western swing state that’s swung toward Democrats in recent years that Republicans view as a state they could win back.
First-term Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., who replaced the late Sen. Harry Reid in 2016, is facing off against former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who fended off a challenge from retired Army captain Sam Brown to win this week’s Republican primary.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rated the race one of three that Senate Democrats are defending, along with Arizona and Georgia, and both candidates have proven they can win a statewide race.
Laxalt won the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, and his campaign released its first ad of the general election Wednesday, blaming Biden and Cortez Masto for problems including inflation and high gas prices.
The consumer price index in the West is up 8.3% from a year ago, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, and AAA found the average price of gas in Nevada has hit $5.67 per gallon.
“If this was any other year, I would say that Cortez Masto was at an advantage against Laxalt, but the national current is running against her,” said Kenneth Miller, an assistant professor of political science at UNLV.
The race is expected to bring in an avalanche of outside spending, and Cortez Masto is seeking to portray Laxalt as beholden to special interests. In an ad released Wednesday, the Cortez Masto campaign said Laxalt was “out for himself, not Nevada,” and pointed to money he raised from oil companies after blocking an ExxonMobil fraud probe.
Republicans lost the Nevada state legislature in 2016, the governor’s mansion in 2018, and the last Republican presidential candidate to win the state was former President George W. Bush in 2004. But Republicans remain competitive.
Biden won Nevada in 2020 by less than 34,000 votes, but some voters have since turned on him and he could prove to be a drag on Democrats nationally. An April Nevada Independent-OH Predictive Insights poll found just 43% of Nevada voters approved of the job Biden was doing and 52% disapproved.
“We’re a battleground state,” Miller said. “We look like we’re going to continue our status as a battleground state in the foreseeable future.”