Nevada, perhaps more than any other state, has shown the potential for a more diverse America to shift the country’s politics to the left. The growing number of Asian American and Latino residents helped Democrats win the state in the last four presidential elections. The party also holds both seats in the Nevada Senate.
Now, however, Nevada is highlighting a more worrisome trend for Democrats: their struggles with working-class voters, including voters of color. These struggles threaten the Democratic dream of a sustainable majority produced by demographic change.
“Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, Democrat of Nevada and the nation’s first Latina senator, is one of the party’s most threatened incumbents,” my colleagues Jennifer Medina and Reid Epstein write in a campaign profile. The race is one of several competitive Senate campaigns this year for Democratic incumbents, along with others in Arizona, Georgia and New Hampshire. Losing it would jeopardize Democratic control of the Senate.
Some of the challenges for Democrats this year reflect a president’s usual party struggles midterm, when opposition voters tend to be more vocal. Yet Cortez Masto, who is a former Nevada attorney general and protege of the late Sen. Harry Reid, is also battling more lasting tendencies.
Nevada is a working-class state, where about a quarter of adults have a four-year college degree — and Democrats have increasingly become the party of highly trained professionals. In 2020, this dynamic hurt the party among Latinos, who swung modestly to Donald Trump. Nearly 30% of Nevada residents are Latinos.
Moderate Democrats tend to blame progressives for these problems, and progressives tend to blame moderates. I think both sides are right, and today’s newsletter will use Nevada as a case study.
The left point
“I don’t know what the government is doing for us, even when they say they want to help,” Margarita Mejia, 68, a retiree from a hotel in Las Vegas, told The Times.
Mejia has often voted for the Democrats, but she said she didn’t run in the 2020 election. When asked if she knew the name of the Nevada senator running for re-election this year – Cortez Masto – Mejia replied no.
President Biden was elected on a platform designed to combat this apathy. It promised tangible help for working-class families, with policies to lower the cost of prescription drugs, eyeglasses, dental care, kindergarten and more. Polls show that many of these policies, including tax increases on the wealthy who would foot the bill, are popular.
But a small number of Democratic centrists in the Senate have so far prevented a scaled-down plan from passing. The best known were Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. They call the bill too radical.
(Manchin and Sinema also cited the risk of inflation, but economist Larry Summers — who warned against inflation — explained on Ezra Klein’s podcast why that fear is misplaced.)
By opposing the bill, senators are adopting an elitist version of centrism that most Americans reject, as noted by Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine. Manchin has blocked economic programs that would help many of his constituents, and Sinema is blocking taxes on the wealthy. Both appear to be blocking new business regulations.
Clearly, there are substantive arguments for an economy in which the wealthy pay little tax and businesses are lightly regulated. But most working-class voters don’t buy these arguments. By passing them, a small number of congressional Democrats made Biden look weak, as The Times’ Jamelle Bouie wrote.
They also left voters like Mejia unsure of what Biden and the feds have done for them. No wonder many see politics as disconnected from everyday life.
The center point
To raise his profile with Latino voters, Cortez Masto recently released a biographical video in Spanish, featuring family photos set to uplifting music. The narrator begins by explaining that Cortez Masto’s grandfather and father served in the military and ends by saying that she stands up for workers and supports small businesses “because they carry the aspirations of our families.”
These themes – family, military service, economic underdogs – are a mix of populism and conservative. They are also a reminder of why the Democratic Party has pushed back some voters, including Latinos, with an increasingly liberal message over the past decade. This liberal message tends to downplay the country’s distinctiveness and highlight Americans’ differences rather than their similarities.
“Hispanics seem to be increasingly put off by currencies and progressive movements,” Mike Madrid, a Republican consultant, wrote for Times Opinion.
After Latino voters turned to Republicans in 2020, Equis Research, a Latino-focused public opinion firm, spent months trying to figure out why. Equis concluded that while most Latino voters didn’t particularly like Trump — and opposed some of his policies, like family separation and corporate tax cuts — they preferred his approach on several big issues. .
Many were uncomfortable with some Democrats’ openness to socialism (and were bombarded with Republican ads about it). Many agreed with Trump on the importance of border security. Some thought Democrats were ignoring the real concerns of Latinos (as opposed to the impression political activists had of those concerns).
Above all, many Latinos appreciated Trump’s emphasis on reopening the economy, Equis found. When asked if they approved of his policy of “living without fear of Covid”, 55% of Latinos said yes. Even now, with highly effective vaccines and treatments available, some liberal Democrats continue to favor indefinite Covid restrictions.
“I’m super Mexican, but just the way he wanted to keep the jobs here, and the way he wanted to promote the economy, that was something admirable,” said a 33-year-old Texas woman who voted for Obama, skipped the 2016 election and voted for Trump in 2020.
The common theme is that the same highly progressive agenda that is popular with college graduates and Democratic activists embitters many working-class Latinos on the party. Like many other demographic groups, Latinos are politically diverse, and most still supported Biden in 2020. But their declining support helps explain why the party fared worse than expected.
If this decline continues, it will spell trouble for Democrats, in Nevada and beyond. Cortez Masto’s publicity bio suggests she understands the problems the political left and center cause, whether or not she can solve them.
For more: Read Jennifer and Reid’s story, which notes that Cortez Masto’s likely opponent oversaw Trump’s efforts in Nevada to overturn the 2020 election result.
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Who is nominated? Jazz pianist Jon Batiste earned the most nominations with 11, including Album and Record of the Year. Doja Cat, Justin Bieber and HER have eight each.
Who is efficient? The show is basically one big concert, with Billie Eilish, Carrie Underwood, J Balvin and many more on stage. Other highlights include a tribute to Stephen Sondheim.
Which artist to watch? Olivia Rodrigo, the 19-year-old singer-songwriter behind “Drivers License,” is up for multiple awards. Our reviews smashed the Record of the Year contest – which pits Rodrigo against Abba and Tony Bennett, among others.
Anything else I should know? Kanye West has been banned from performing due to his online behavior despite being up for five awards. And producers rushed to pay tribute to Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, who was due to perform before his death last week.