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Ray Hagar: Leadership role for Nevada’s Cortez Masto as Democrats hope to regain U.S. Senate

Her name will not be on the ballot in 2020 but that election will be one of the most important yet for Nevada senior U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.

Cortez Masto, the state’s former attorney general, is entering her second year as the chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. She is focused on raising money for incumbents and candidates with the goal of winning the majority in the U.S. Senate in 2020.

That’s something Democrats have not held since Cortez Masto’s predecessor and mentor, Harry Reid, was the Senate Majority Leader in 2015.

Cortez Masto is confident of the Democrats’ chances of flipping the U.S. Senate but did not commit to it 100 percent in a recent interview on Nevada Newsmakers.

“Absolutely,” she said when asked if Democrats can gain the Senate majority.

“I am not going to say that is a definite,” she added.

“We can’t take anything for granted but we have a much more favorable map this cycle,” Cortez Masto told host Sam Shad.

“We have 12 seats that are up for Democratic senators and we have to make sure they get re-elected. The Republicans have 23. And yes, we need to flip the Senate so we can take back control,” Cortez Masto said.

Cortez Masto is seen as an energetic up-and-comer on Capitol Hill, according to various reports. Being chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is considered a difficult job, although success doing it can be a major boost to a political career by forging relationships within the caucus and getting people elected who would remember and appreciate the help given to them.

Former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairs include Edmund Muskie and Lloyd Bentsen — both went on to become vice-presidential nominees on Democratic presidential tickets.

The Democrats’ 2004 presidential candidate, John Kerry, also chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, as did current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the current assistant Senate Democratic leader, had two stints as Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair.

Cortez Masto is the first Latina and Nevadan to chair the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. She is also only its second woman chair.

“She breaks glass ceilings,” Schumer said in a statement when Cortez Masto was selected as that committee chair in November 2018.

Signs show that Cortez Masto is doing well atop the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The committee raised $6.5 million in September alone, compared to the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee’s $5 million, according to the Huffington Post. The DSCC had $18 million cash on hand as of mid-October.

“I’m going to do everything as part of the DSCC (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) to work with the candidates and our incumbents to make sure they have the resources and support they need to get their message out to their constituents,” Cortez Masto said. “The candidates and incumbents are the only ones who can talk to their voters. And they should be. They should be out there, talking about the issues that matter.”

Republicans currently hold a 53-47 advantage in the Senate. Thirty-five seats are up in 2020, including special elections. Republicans have 23 seats up for election when you count the Arizona special election and the Georgia special election. In 2020, Democrats must win a net of three seats and the vice presidency, or four seats without the vice presidency, to assume control of the Senate. Three GOP seats that experts say are definitely in play are in Arizona, Colorado and Maine.

Democrats must also defend the Alabama seat held by Sen. Doug Jones, who defeated a flawed candidate in Republican Judge Roy Moore in a nationally-watched 2018 special election. Jones faces re-election in a state that is decidedly Republican.

“The seats, or states we are talking about flipping, however, are states that Trump lost (in 2016) or we did really well in 2018,” Cortez Masto said. “We’ve got incredibly strong candidates in those states. And when I say incredibly strong, these are candidates that fit their states. They come from there. They (voters) know them.”

Democratic candidates and incumbents in 2020 will have strong roots in their states, Cortez Masto said.

“I was looking for someone like me and Nevada,” she said about the candidates’ considerations. “I know Nevada. I was born and raised there. I’m going to fight for it and these are the type of people who are running in those states.”

Cortez Masto gave a strong hint about what issue Democrats will push in 2020.

“Let me just say this: The No. 1 issue still in this country, including Nevada, is still health care — access to affordable health care in this country,” she said. “The high cost of prescription drugs. We need to bring it down. Coverage for pre-existing conditions. We need to make sure that there’s coverage and the affordability piece of that. Health care. That is still the No. 1 issue, I don’t care if you’re a Republican, Democrat, independent, from urban or rural areas, That (health care) is it. That is the focus.”

Ray Hagar is a journalist for “Nevada Newsmakers.” More information on the public affairs broadcast program, podcast and website are available nevadanewsmakers.com

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