Meet Catherine Cortez Masto, the Candidate Who Could Become the First-Ever Latina Senator

With only two weeks before Election Day, politicians nationwide are jockeying for position and making their closing arguments to voters on why they should elect them into office.

In case the possibility of electing Hillary Clinton the nation’s first woman president isn’t momentous enough, voters in Nevada have a chance to make even more history if they elect former Attorney General of Nevada and Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto. She and her opponent, Republican Congressman Joe Heck, are both vying for the open seat left behind by retiring US Senate Majority leader Harry Reid.

If things go her way Nov. 8, Cortez Masto will be the first Latina ever elected to the US Senate. Currently, the race looks like a tight one, with Cortez Masto holding a slight two-point lead over Heck based on the average of polls at Real Clear Politics.

During a phone interview with Remezcla last week, Cortez Masto, 52, talked to us about why she wants her next role in government to be as a member of the US Senate, what issues are most important to Latinos in Nevada, and how she feels the race at the top of the ticket between Clinton and Donald Trump is affecting her own campaign.

On when she knew she wanted to devote her life to politics

It was when I decided I needed to fight for some of our families and people in Nevada on certain issues. We were dealing with a methamphetamine crisis in the state and we needed leadership. We were dealing with domestic violence all over the state. For me, those are areas—particularly when it comes to domestic violence prevention and sexual assault—that I had worked in before. I thought it was time to step up and take a leadership role and steer the ship to bring attention to those issues and find solutions to the problems. That’s when I decided to run for Attorney General for the first time in 2006.

On deciding the US Senate was the place she wanted to serve next

For me, it would allow me to continue to fight for the people in the state on so many issues, like the economy and passing comprehensive immigration reform and fighting for an education system that benefits our kids. During my time as Attorney General, there were other places where people wanted me to run for office, but I was working on so many important issues for the state at the time, including trying to pass laws against the sexual exploitation of our children and stopping sex trafficking in Nevada, and doing more to protect our seniors from exploitation and fraud. I felt like I needed to finish what I started. When Senator Reid announced his retirement, I started to seriously consider [running for the U.S. Senate] and continue to fight for Nevadans across the state and take on some national issues. With the support of my family, Senator Reid and so many incredible people across the state, that’s what I’ve been doing full time.

On how she is going to help bridge the gap in Congress between Democrats and Republicans

People are frustrated. They look at Washington see that nobody is working together. There is a lot of partisan bickering. Working with Republicans is something I always did as Attorney General. I introduced legislation in the state, over 40 bills, that passed with support from Democrats and Republicans. I don’t think compromise is a bad word. I have a proven record in solving problems in a bipartisan manner. I think that is what Washington is missing. It’s about building relationships and focusing on how we can solve problems we know people are dealing with across this country.

On issues that concern Latino Nevadans the most

Just sitting and talking with business owners and the faith-based community and working families and Dreamers and kids, one of the things that is important to them is having comprehensive immigration reform. That is something that is personal to me. My grandfather came from Chihuahua, Mexico. He crossed the Rio Grande, served in the military and became a U.S. citizen. My father was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico and my grandparents brought the family to Las Vegas to live the American Dream—to work hard so your kids can have more than what you have. It’s about the economy and jobs and ensuring people have a wage they can live on. We’re working on a future for everyone and we’re bringing families out of the shadows. Passing comprehensive immigration reform in this country not only keeps families together, but it’s also good for the economy.

On the possibility of becoming the first Latina to ever serve in the U.S. Senate

It would be incredible to make history, but at the end of the day the most important thing for me would be to have a voice at the table to get things done and bring a different perspective that is needed. We need more diversity in Congress and the US Senate. It’s incredible to me that we are now, for the first time, just electing a Latina US Senator. I’ve always felt, particularly as the Attorney General of the state, that the people that served in my office should be just as diverse as the community we are representing. I think that should be true of Congress. For me, it’s important to be a voice at that table as a Latina.

On her Republican opponent Congressman Joe Heck denouncing Donald Trump only after the 2005 video leak

This is a clear example of somebody who has put his party above the interests of the people in the state of Nevada. Congressman Heck has been supporting Donald Trump for nine months. He had high hopes that Donald Trump would be president. He had no concerns that Donald Trump would have his finger on the nuclear button. Now, after nine months, he’s decided he’s not going to support him anymore? That’s not leadership. It’s clear Congressman Heck is trying to save his political career because his candidate is self-imploding. That’s a clear contrast between the two of us. I will never and have never put party interest above the interests of people of this state or this country.

On how she felt as a Latina when she first heard what Donald Trump said about women on that leaked Access Hollywood video

I was offended. I was an Attorney General who fought for sexual assault prevention. We fought against domestic violence and sexual exploitation. I think what Donald Trump said was completely offensive and disgusting. Anybody who supports Donald Trump to be the president should be concerned about who he truly is and what he stands for. It’s not just this one incident. We’ve had nine months of Donald Trump attacks. This isn’t something new. That’s why it’s astounding to me that Congressman Heck all of a sudden decides he’s not going to support him after we’ve seen the long history and pattern of who Donald Trump really is.

On what she thinks Latino voter turnout will be like Election Day

In Nevada, the Hispanic population is about 27.5 percent. We anticipate there is going to be a high turnout for this election cycle. Let me tell you why: Because we have somebody who is running at the top of the ticket, Donald Trump, who has attacked Mexicans and called them criminals and drug dealers and is more focused on getting elected than on the issues of Latinos in this state. The first meeting Hillary Clinton had in Nevada was with members of the Hispanic community. Latinos are going to come out and vote this election cycle. What I’ve also seen that I’ve never seen before is many legal residents who have applied for citizenship in Nevada because they want to vote in November against Donald Trump. Voters in the Latino community will turn out because they know what’s at stake.