Nevada Democratic senator Catherine Cortez Masto is ditching her years-long use of the gender-neutral term "Latinx" just in time for her tight reelection bid against Republican Adam Laxalt, which is expected to hinge on Hispanic voters.
Cortez Masto began peddling the "woke" term shortly after former president Donald Trump entered the White House. When Trump's first wave of Cabinet nominees did not include a Latino, Cortez Masto in February 2017 tweeted, "I don't believe that there isn't one Latinx fit for any of Trump's Cabinet positions. This is sheer ignorance." Days later, Trump announced his plan to nominate Alexander Acosta, the son of Cuban refugees, as labor secretary.
Cortez Masto's use of "Latinx" continued over the next two years. In September 2018, the Democrat applauded the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for "bringing attention to all the ways the Latinx community has contributed to southern NV." Months later, in June 2019, Cortez Masto implored Democratic presidential candidates to avoid taking "NV's Latinx voters … for granted." Cortez Masto has also used "Latinx" in both official and campaign press materials. "Nevada is one of the most diverse states in America with a vibrant Latinx community," she said in one release. "You can't tell the history of Las Vegas without hearing Latinx voices," she wrote in another. Cortez Masto's campaign Twitter account, by contrast, did not use the term "Latina" for roughly three years, from October 2017 to August 2020.
Now, Cortez Masto is ditching the unpopular term as she courts Hispanic voters. Many of the Democrat's digital ads tout her status as "the first Latina ever elected to the U.S. Senate," and Cortez Masto's latest campaign press releases swap "Latinx" for "Latino." The change comes as a tacit admission that Cortez Masto's past embrace of progressive rhetoric could alienate a crucial voting block in her race against Laxalt. Just 2 percent of U.S. Hispanic voters use the term "Latinx," according to a December 2021 Bendixen & Amandi International poll, while 40 percent say the term offends them, and 30 percent say they would be less likely to support a politician who uses it. Roughly 20 percent of midterm voters in Nevada are expected to be Latino, a National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials report found.
Cortez Masto, who did not return a request for comment, will face Laxalt at the polls in just one month, and the Democrat's top allies are sounding the alarm that disgruntled Hispanic voters may not show up over economic concerns. Inflation has hit Nevada especially hard—the average price for a gallon of gas, for example, is $5.40, which is 32 percent higher than the national average. That issue has caused some working-class voters in Nevada to dismiss Democrats. "You think I am going to vote for those Democrats after all they've done to ruin the economy?" one East Las Vegas voter asked a Culinary Workers Union canvasser last week.
"It's what's keeping me up at night," the president of the liberal Somos PAC told NBC News. "What I'm looking at is: Do Latinos actually turn out to vote this year?"
Prior to their Senate contest, both Cortez Masto and Laxalt served as Nevada's attorney general. Cortez Masto held the job from 2007 to 2015—during that time, thousands of rape kits in the state sat untested. When Laxalt succeeded Cortez Masto, the Republican secured $3.7 million to "clear the backlog." Nearly 7,400 kits were sent to labs for testing by the end of Laxalt's term. As Nevada's top cop, Cortez Masto also accepted more than $61,000 in donor gifts, including a luxury handbag and complimentary tickets to award shows and sporting events. Laxalt swore off the practice when he took over.
Cortez Masto often calls herself the "most vulnerable U.S. senator in America" in her fundraising materials, and recent polling supports the sentiment. According to an October CNN poll, Laxalt leads Cortez Masto by 2 points.