Control of the U.S. Senate in 2023 may run through Nevada. Here’s what to watch for over the next 15 months.
On Tuesday, Adam Laxalt, Nevada’s former Republican attorney general and 2018 gubernatorial candidate, announced that he’s running for U.S. Senate. He’ll be facing Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat who’s trying to win re-election for the first time.
Expect gobs of national attention — and out-of-state money — in this race. It’s not hyperbole to say it may determine control of the upper chamber.
The Senate is currently 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties to give Democrats control. In a vacuum, the 2022 election map is favorable to Democrats, as Republicans have more seats to defend. Also, a number of incumbent Republicans are retiring, most notably in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Democratic wins there could offset potential Democratic losses in Georgia and Arizona. Depending on who decides to run, Republicans could flip New Hampshire, too.
Bottom line: If Cortez Masto wins, Democrats have a much better chance of maintaining control. If Laxalt wins, Republicans probably have the majority.
Expect Laxalt to try to make this election a referendum on unified Democratic control in Washington and the ruling class it represents. At the moment, that’s not going so well. Inflation and unchecked illegal immigration are major crises. President Joe Biden promised that he had a plan to end the coronavirus. Nope. His decision to surrender Afghanistan to the Taliban may define his legacy, but voters may not care by next November. If they do, it’s unlikely to be positive for Democrats.
“Masto has just gone along with it all, from the BLM riots to open border to critical race theory,” Laxalt said in an interview. “She hasn’t broken from Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and AOC on any of these important issues of the day.”
A maverick in the mold of Sen. Joe Manchin or Sen. Susan Collins might do well in Nevada. But good luck thinking of an issue on which Cortez Masto hasn’t toed the party line — even rhetorically. In March, she called for gutting the filibuster. She’s a reliable vote for Democrat bills and Biden’s nominees.
That’s no surprise. During the 2020 cycle, she chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. She can’t disassociate from the Democrat majority because she helped create it.
For her part, expect Cortez Masto to try to tie Laxalt to former President Donald Trump. Laxalt co-chaired Trump’s Nevada campaign and was the public face of the campaign’s post-election legal challenges in Nevada. Making the Senate election a referendum on Trump would be a lot easier if Trump were in office. He’s not. Cortez Masto is.
The winner may not need to top 50 percent. In 2016, Cortez Masto won with 47.1 percent of the vote. In 2018, which was a strong year for Democrats, Laxalt lost the governor’s race with 45 percent of the vote. It’s likely 2022 will be a strong year for Republicans because voters tend to swing against the incumbent president’s party in off-year elections. That factor alone could push Laxalt to 48 percent, which may be enough to win.
Incumbency favors Cortez Masto. The national political environment currently favors Laxalt. Buckle up.