How Donald Trump Is Playing a Role in Tight Senate Race in Nevada

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A woman at the top of a U.S. major party’s presidential ticket is already historic, but the election outcome on Nov. 8 in Nevada could break even more barriers.

In Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, voters will have the option of choosing a nearly all-female ticket for the Democrats, from Hillary Clinton at the top down through candidates for U.S. Senate and House to the state senate and assembly. The only man on the ticket is Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine.

Gender isn’t the only barrier that could be broken in Nevada. The Democratic Senate nominee, Catherine Cortez Masto, would if elected become the first Latina Senator ever.

Cortez Masto, whose father of Mexican descent and mother of Italian descent met in Nevada, is running for the seat of a fellow lifelong Nevadan, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, who is retiring.

The 52-year-old former state attorney general is actively trying to appeal to minority voters in a state where more than a quarter of the population — 28.1 percent in 2015, per the Census Bureau — identifies as Hispanic or Latino.

Though Cortez Masto does not speak Spanish, her candidacy could resonate with voters well aware of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s attacks on Mexicans and who have tended overwhelmingly to vote Democratic anyway.

President Barack Obama is greeted by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (L) and Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto (R) during rally in support of Hillary Clinton’s campaign in Las Vegas, Oct. 23, 2016.more +

Barack Obama captured 67 and 71 percent of Nevada’s Hispanic vote in 2008 and 2012, respectively. In 2004, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry received 60 percent of this vote and, four years earlier, Al Gore got 64 percent among Hispanics in the state.

Cortez Masto is trying to use this Democratic loyalty to her advantage while also seeking to link her opponent, Rep. Joe Heck, to Trump, which isn’t hard for her to do.

Heck initially endorsed Trump but disavowed the Republican presidential nominee after the release on Oct. 8 of an Access Hollywood recording in 2005 where Trump is heard making vulgar comments about women. Heck said he "can no longer look past the pattern of behavior and comments" made by his party’s presidential nominee.

Catherine Cortez Masto addresses a group of largely immigrant volunteers at a phone bank in Las Vegas, Oct. 18, 2016.more +

Cortez is working not to let Heck off the hook for his previous support of the GOP presidential nominee.

"My opponent had high hopes that Donald Trump was going to be the president, so no, he doesn’t get to run from Donald Trump. The only reason as to why he’s doing it and why hes doing it now is because he’s trying to save his political career and it’s desperation," Cortez Masto told reporters at a phone- banking event held in Las Vegas on her behalf by supporters who are immigrants.

Cortez Masto obviously is running against Heck, not Trump, but her supporters at the phone bank were more likely to cite Trump as the reason they were voting for the Democratic Senate hopeful.

"I have been more passive in past elections," said Elena Barroeta, 64, a native of Venezuela who moved to the U.S. 24 years ago and became a citizen more than a decade ago. She voted in past elections but didn’t volunteer much for candidates before Cortez Masto.

Trump and her desire "to stop him" pushed her to action, she said.

"He’s a very good entertainer. I actually like watching him on TV, but he’s not fit to be president," Barroeta said.

Barroeta added that she has three children and a 4-year-old grandchild who she feels like she will have to answer to someday.

"They will ask ‘What did you do to preserve the democracy of the United States?’" she said.

Cortez Masto, who served as state attorney general for two terms until 2014, agreed that Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants and Mexicans in particular is driving Hispanic and other voters to support her.

"I was at a roundtable discussion with some Latino small business owners and the Latina small business owner sitting next to me said she was a legal resident and ‘I applied for citizenship because I’m voting against Donald Trump and I’m making sure my family and my son and everybody else comes out,’" Cortez Masto told ABC News at the phone bank event in Las Vegas earlier this month.

"You know, when you come into the state of Nevada, which is so beautifully diverse, and you call Mexicans names and you want to build a wall, and you want to ban Muslims, you’re making fun of the disabled, you’re calling women names, attacking POWs and Gold Star families — people are paying attention, and they don’t want that type of rhetoric and divisiveness in this country," she said.

Besides Hispanics, another problem group for Trump — women — is proving helpful to Cortez Masto.

Emily’s List, which works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights to all levels of government, has raised money on Cortez Masto’s behalf and spent $4 million on advertisements supporting her campaign, the most it has ever put toward any nonpresidential race, according to the group’s national spokeswoman Rachel Thomas.

"We endorsed Catherine early on," Thomas told ABC News. "She has been such a strong advocate for Nevadans as attorney general and we have been with her every step of the way."

Volunteers in Nevada make calls for the full Democratic ticket, which in Clark County is a fully female ballot.more +

Who will win the Senate race in Nevada is unclear from recent polls. An Oct. 17 CNN/ORC poll had Cortez Masto head at 52 percent to Heck’s 45 percent, but that order flipped in the Oct. 26 NBC/WSJ/Marist poll which had Hack leading 49 percent to Cortez Masto’s 42 percent. Other polling in the same period showed less of a gap but similarly suggested a razor-tight race.

Cortez Masto said that she isn’t putting stock in poll numbers.

"Nevada’s very hard to poll, and I can tell you if you’re on the ground here talking to people, what Trump says matters," she said.

"There is something that’s happening. There is an energy, and they’re paying attention to that divisive rhetoric and they’re paying attention to people who support that divisive rhetoric."