Why Catherine Cortez Masto Won the Nevada Senate Seat

On November 8th, Catherine Cortez Masto won the open Senate seat in Nevada, replacing Harry Reid. She is the first ever Latina senator and arguably beat many odds that were stacked against her. Masto ran against a white male Republican who had served in the military, traits that are historically advantageous when running for public office. It was a widely held assumption that this race would prove to be one of the most competitive in the 2016 elections, and received a significant amount of national news coverage. Cortez Masto beat opponent Joe Heck by about 35,000 votes, or 4 percentage points (Ballotpedia).

The state of Nevada is 50.9% male and 49.1% female. More importantly, the state population is around 20% Latino or Hispanic (US Census). According to 2015 Gallup findings, 39.4% of the state leans or is Democrat and 43.5% leans or is Republican; leaving Democrats with a -4.1 advantage. However, the senate seat up for contention was one that had previously been held by Harry Reid, a Democrat and the current Senate minority leader, which likely gave Cortez Masto a slight advantage over Joe Heck solely based on party. Additionally, in the last three presidential elections, including 2016, the state of Nevada has gone blue. Based on this background information, an initial theory to help explain Cortez Masto’s win could be coattails from Hillary Clinton.

An interpretation of Robert Erickson’s (2016) theory of coattails helps support the application to the 2016 Nevada senate race. While Hillary Clinton did not secure a presidential victory, she did win in the state of Nevada. By looking only at how she performed within the state, it becomes evident that Cortez Masto would have been able to ride the coattails of Clinton. Had the state gone red, it is possible that Trump’s coattails would have helped secure a victory for the Republican, Joe Heck.

Looking next at Paul Herrnson’s “Predictors of House Open-Seat Candidates’ Vote Shares”, parallels can be drawn that also apply to Senate races (p. 262). While the partisanship of the state of Nevada leans right, the resources of Cortez Masto greatly outweighed Heck; both highly influential factors on election outcomes according to Herrnson. In this election, it appears that spending was a more determinant factor of who won. In line with another important factor according to Herrnson was Cortez Masto’s strategy to “emphasize themes that are consistent with the national political agenda” (p. 265). The senator-elect ran on a platform centered on “protecting families”, raising the minimum wage and fighting for equal pay, immigration reform with a path to citizenship helping undocumented immigrants currently residing the US, and utilizing clean energy to preserve natural resources (http://catherinecortezmasto.com/about). This echoes the 2016 National Democratic Platform, and likely helped mobilize voters by employing a partisan approach and focusing on issues that are considered to be ‘owned’ by the party.

Another factor in Catherine’s win could be the overall favorable view the state holds of President Obama, who campaigned on behalf of Cortez Masto. Abramowitz (2008) argues that one factor in predicting election outcomes is the approval rating of the incumbent president at the time of an election; this holds true in years when the sitting president is not on the ballot, as was the situation in this election. The most recent Huffington Post poll, taken seven days before Election Day on November 1st, found Obama’s approval rating in Nevada to be 49.9%. This lends support to the assumption that a factor in the Democratic Party win of the seat was the view of the current president.

Campaign spending likely had a large impact on the outcome of this race. It was the seventh most expensive senate race of the 2016 elections, with Cortez Masto raising $16,063,918 and Heck raising $11,083,639 (OpenSecrets). In keeping with Holbrook and McClurg’s (2005) finding that states with more funding than average see 3-4% points difference in turnout, Joe Heck’s $5 million disparity likely increased partisan turnout for the Democrats.

Cortez Masto’s win was an impressive feat in the current political climate. Being a minority and a woman put her at a significant disadvantage. Dave Cassino presents evidence to support the idea that when faced with supporting a man or woman for president, men take gender into account in a way that can skew the outcome regardless of party identification. This means that Cortez Masto successfully overcame the “threat to gender roles” that would have, or maybe did, cue men to vote for another male regardless of any other factor other than sex of the candidate. Additionally, as reported by Holman, Merolla, and Zechmeister, in times where the threat of terror is high and/or salient, female Democratic candidates are at a significant disadvantage, but Cortez Masto came out victorious regardless.

Sources (that are not hyperlinked):


Melania Trumped Conversation, Refused Roll Call Vote Ignored

Beginning only hours after it aired, mainstream media coverage was consumed by Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention on the evening of July 18th. Specifically in question were the parts that sounded identical to lines from a speech that Michelle Obama gave at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

There was much speculation in regards to how the content was approved by Donald Trump’s team, as it is seemingly impossible that the identical lines would have gone unnoticed. Two days later, it was reported that Melania’s speechwriter offered her resignation, which Trump declined. The speechwriter, Meredith McIver, said that in the process of discussing Melania’s inspirations, Michelle Obama was listed. That is what reportedly led to an accidental insertion of segments from Michelle’s speech. That new development ensured that the topic would continue to be covered for another 24-hour news cycle.

An event at the RNC largely ignored by the cable news cycle, however, was the quick and questionable shut down of the attempt Republican delegates made to vote down the Convention’s rules package. Changing the rules package, specifically Rule 39, to unbind delegates was the last possible chance the GOP had to nominate a candidate other than Donald Trump. Despite their efforts, Trump officially became the Republican nominee on the evening of July 19th.

Senator Mike Lee, a delegate fighting to amend the package, told The Daily Caller reporter Alex Pappas in a Facebook Live interview that multiple states had “invoked a very simple garden-variety parliamentary procedure to call for a roll call vote.” Lee said that in response to those petitions, the RNC refused to hold a roll call vote and whipped “aggressively” against the states. CNN reported that members of Trump’s campaign team also jumped to action in order to crush the rebellion.

The entire petition process was shrouded in secrecy, as a minimum of seven states needed to call for the vote, but it was not made public which states did. Senator Lee estimated that 11 state delegations had submitted petitions, while others have said that it was originally 9 states. There have also been conflicting reports as to whether it was three or four states that then withdrew their petition after being forced into submission by the RNC and members of the Trump team.

Presiding chairman Steve Womack opted for a voice vote to pass the rules and determined that the support for the existing proposed package was sufficient. Uproar ensued with some delegates walking off the floor, while some of the original rebel states handed over withdrawal signatures. It then possibly came down to one state, and the details surrounding Alaska’s petition are murky at best.

The RNC stated that Alaska did not have enough signatures for a valid petition, but delegate Fred Brown disagrees. Brown told POLITICO that the correct number of signatures had been secured, and that the convention secretary was not in the designated position to receive the petition. “Some said she was hiding. Others said she was protected by guards. Regardless, I was told I could also present the signatures from the floor. Nevertheless, when the vote occurred, my mic was not turned on. When I attempted to present these signatures at the stage, my effort was ignored by the chair, and the security guard turned me away.”

The chaos and outrage on the floor after the first result prompted Womack to call for a second voice vote. He then, again, determined those in favor of the rules package were the majority.

One Virginia delegate told POLITICO that he believed the states that chose to withdraw support were “plants by the RNC to convince insurgents they had reached their goal.” The chairman did not answer when asked which states had taken part in the process, but by the end Womack simply said that only six jurisdictions wanted the vote.

The entire anti-Trump rebellion on the floor at the RNC, a clear manifestation of the frustration and discord within the GOP, was effectively overshadowed in the wake of a fourteen and half minute speech by the wife of the presidential nominee that delegates were working to overthrow.

RIP to the Never Trump movement.