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Cortez Masto reserves record-smashing $10 million for ads in election’s final stretch

Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
Election 2022
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Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto will make $10 million in advertising reservations for the last two months of the election, a record-breaking sum for a Nevada candidate and an early signal of the massive campaign spending expected in the state’s crucial U.S. Senate race.

The staggering amount likely depletes, for now, a significant portion of the senator’s campaign cash on hand. That number sat at $10.4 million at the end of the calendar year, but has likely increased over the past three months as fundraising has continued. TV ad reservations can also be modified later, and payment isn’t typically required up-front.

The two-month ad reservation, which runs from Labor Day in September to Election Day, is more than President Joe Biden’s campaign spent in Nevada in the 2020 election. Total TV ad spending in Nevada’s 2018 U.S. Senate race, which includes spending by candidates and outside groups, generated $78 million in total advertising.

In the off-year of 2021, Cortez Masto averaged just over $3 million raised every quarter, and those figures will traditionally increase as the election draws closer and donor interest in the election follows suit.

Cortez Masto began running an initial slate of ads earlier this month, with two television spots putting heavy focus on the senator’s involvement in securing federal aid for small businesses and the hospitality industry as part of the American Rescue Plan. Another Spanish-language ad has sought to highlight her Latino heritage. 

Cortez Masto’s campaign warchest had, until now, dwarfed her possible competitors. None of the three Democrats opposing her in the primary — Allen Rheinhart, Corey Reid and Stephanie Kasheta — had submitted campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission prior to their filing this month. 

Her ad reservation is roughly four times the combined cash on hand for the field of possible Republican opponents, which was $2.44 million at the start of the year. Almost all of that money is held by the top two candidates — former Attorney General Adam Laxalt ($1.69 million on hand) and dark horse challenger Sam Brown ($732,000 on hand). 

A former co-chair of the Donald Trump campaign in Nevada and one of the most prominent voices challengingwithout evidence — the legitimacy of the 2020 election, Laxalt and his allies have staked his Senate bid in large part on his ties to Trump. 

In two television advertisements, both Laxalt’s campaign and an outside group that has endorsed him, Club for Growth, have centered the messaging on the Trump endorsement from August of last year, including playing video of the former president praising Laxalt. 

Though Brown — who has also reserved ad space on the airwaves in the lead-up to the June primary — has also targeted Cortez Masto and Biden on social media, he has reserved many of his attacks for Laxalt.

Cortez Masto is among a handful of incumbent Democrats looking to weather the 2022 midterms and maintain control of a Senate divided 50-50 between the two major parties. Republicans have made Cortez Masto one of their biggest targets in the broader effort to retake control of Congress. 

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which tracks the competitiveness of federal elections, rated Nevada’s Senate race as a “toss-up,” alongside contests in Georgia and Arizona. 

Early polling in Nevada has shown inconsistent results, sometimes hovering at or around the margin of error. 

That includes a Nevada Independent/OH Insights poll from February that showed Cortez Masto leading Laxalt 44 percent to 35 percent, with a 3.6 percent margin of error; a November 2021, poll from the Republican-aligned Trafalgar Group showing Laxalt up 44 percent to 41 percent with a 3 percent margin of error; and an October poll from The Nevada Independent and the Mellman Group showing Cortez Masto leading, 46 percent to 41 percent, with a 4 percent margin of error.  

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