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Nevada senator has advice for Biden on how to win state's independent voters


Now, our colleague A Martínez is reporting from Nevada, where Nikki Haley just lost the Republican primary to none of these candidates, which was the other option, and President Biden easily won the Democratic primary.

A MARTÍNEZ, BYLINE: We're in Nevada this week, a battleground state. It supported the Democratic nominee for president in the last four elections. But in 2020, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by fewer than three percentage points here. Now, to find out what Democrats are doing to appeal to the state's voters this time around, we've called U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada. Senator, I'm in Reno. I'm speaking to voters, and I'm very happy to be speaking to you. Thank you for joining us.

CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO: Well, happy to join you, and welcome to Nevada.

MARTÍNEZ: Thank you very much. Now, OK, so one of the things that keeps coming up with the people we've spoken to is how dissatisfied they are at what likely appears to be another Trump-Biden rematch. So we went to Reno Public Market. Let's listen to a couple of voters, Michael Mac Millan (ph) and Amanda Palmer (ph).

MICHAEL MAC MILLAN: I feel like they keep rolling out the same lackluster slate of candidates year after year. It's been like that for a long time, where you have to hold your nose when you pull the lever, you know, so to speak. I want to see better candidates. I want to see somebody that I'm really excited about.

AMANDA PALMER: We've been making the same choice between two evils for so long. Well, let's choose between, you know, the worst candidate or the candidate we're OK with but we don't really - we like on some issues or most issues, but we're not completely content with, right?

MARTÍNEZ: It sounds like you're almost wishing for the perfect candidate.

PALMER: There's no such thing. I recognize that. However, I think we can do a lot better than what we currently have.

MARTÍNEZ: So, Senator, how do you get people excited for President Biden when they have these kinds of feelings for the choices in front of them?

CORTEZ MASTO: Well, first of all, thank you for being at the Reno Public Market. It's a great place. What you see there is typical of a state like Nevada, which is a swing state. There's a lot of diversity reflected in the state, which is - reflects the rest of the country. And you can't take any voter for granted, getting out and talking to them or talking to them about who's on the ballot, but also what they stand for. And listen, there's a clear distinction between President Biden and a Donald Trump.

MARTÍNEZ: But some of the things we've heard over the last couple of days is that they might not want to vote because of the choices in front of them.

CORTEZ MASTO: I know Nevada, and there are Democrats, nonpartisans, Republicans, and I will say every single one of the group - they care about policies and issues from a woman's right to choose to the climate to jobs to lowering costs for their families. And if you get out and you talk to them, you have a better opportunity to get them to turn out and come and support you based on the issues that matter to them. And you have to listen to them.

MARTÍNEZ: Let's listen to a couple of independent voters. Here's Susan Coleman (ph) and Madhav Vadalingam (ph).

SUSAN COLEMAN: I was a Democrat. My husband's a Republican. My family, I grew up Republican. But I want to be able to choose the best person, not according to the party.

MADHAV VADALINGAM: I'm independent, so I just lean with whichever candidate fits my best interests.

MARTÍNEZ: Why did you decide to be an independent voter and not pick a party?

VADALINGAM: Both my parents are Democrats. I used to always just do whatever they did, but then I kind of just realized, like, I need to think of what's best for me, right? And there's different issues from both sides that I could be like, oh, that's important to me. That's important to me as well.

MARTÍNEZ: So, Senator, you narrowly won your reelection bid just over a year ago with the help of independent voters. What's your advice to President Biden on how to court Nevada's independent voters?

CORTEZ MASTO: Show up. Listen. Talk to them. Don't take any voter for granted for the very reasons that that clip just shows. Those are Nevadans who care about the issues, and they want to know somebody is going to be fighting on those issues.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, I've been looking at polls for Nevada since October, and they have Donald Trump consistently in the lead over Joe Biden, with the margin lately getting a little bit bigger. What do you think accounts for Trump's apparent surge in Nevada?

CORTEZ MASTO: Well, let me just say, as somebody who just came off a reelection, I know the polls aren't always right. In my race, pundits repeatedly told me I was losing ground with Latino voters, and that simply wasn't true.

MARTÍNEZ: So should President Biden not concern himself with the results of these polls?

CORTEZ MASTO: Well, I can only tell you at the end of the day, what I learned from my father, who was a local - eventually became a local elected official - is you can't take any voter for granted. You got to get out and talk and ask for their votes. I know in Nevada in my reelect, it wasn't just about those kitchen-table issues. It was about women's right to choose and the freedom to access 21st century health care. It was about this big lie that was being peddled by Donald Trump, that they hated him undermining our democracy. And that's still on the table right now.

MARTÍNEZ: So on the issue of women's right to choose, abortion in Nevada up to 24 weeks has been legal here for over two decades. But a recent ruling by a Nevada judge might clear the way to let voters decide on enshrining it into the state's constitution come November. Senator, how much do you think reproductive rights will factor into the presidential race and down-ballot votes?

CORTEZ MASTO: Oh, it's a big issue for Nevadans. I know it just as a third-generation Nevadan, but somebody, again, who just won my reelection. It's what turned out a number of Nevadans. And literally they were Democrats. They were Republicans. They were nonpartisans. They were women. They were men. And the biggest concern they had is a Republican-controlled Congress or a White House that will introduce some sort of federal abortion ban that will preempt state laws and laws across the country.

MARTÍNEZ: That is Democratic U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada. Senator, thank you for taking the time.

CORTEZ MASTO: Thank you. Enjoy the snow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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