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A ‘silver lining’ on election night: First Latina elected to U.S. Senate

Former Nevada attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto speaks in Las Vegas after winning her Senate race against Rep Joseph J. Heck (R-Nev.). (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

In the midst of disappointment for some Latinos nationwide on election night, some found a silver lining: For the first time, a Latina was elected to serve in the U.S. Senate.

With the backing of outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), former Nevada attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto won a Senate race on Tuesday, defeating Rep. Joseph J. Heck (R-Nev.) in a close fight.

With a collective, bittersweet sigh, supporters and fellow Latinos in Nevada and nationwide praised Cortez Masto’s win on social media, calling it “the tiniest speck of light,” and a “silver lining,” and tweeting that “we couldn’t elect the first female president, but we did elect the first Latina senator.”

Cortez Masto, whose grandfather immigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico, will increase the number of Latinos in the Senate from three to four, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who retained his seat Tuesday, and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

In two other notable Latino gains in Congress, Darren Soto, a Democrat, became the first Puerto Rican to represent Florida in the House of Representatives and Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) was elected the first Dominican American to Congress.

After the results came in, Cortez Masto tweeted, “I’m proud to be Nevada’s 1st female and our nation’s 1st Latina senator. It’s about time our government mirrors the diversity of our nation.”

Several other groups and individuals took to Twitter to laud her win:

Cortez Masto served two terms as Nevada’s chief law enforcement officer, helping pass laws to combat the manufacturing of methamphetamine. She weathered a tight Senate race against Heck, a physician and a brigadier general in the Army Reserve, who focused his attacks less on Cortez Masto and more on casting a retiring Reid as a villain who chose his puppet to succeed him, The Washington Post’s Paul Kane wrote.

In addition to receiving Reid’s backing, Cortez Masto received support from President Obama, Vice President Biden, first lady Michelle Obama and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Obama praised her work as a prosecutor, working across party lines and with law enforcement.

In the final days of the campaign, Cortez Masto’s strategy was to link her Republican opponent to Donald Trump. Heck broke ties with Trump last month after a 2005 video was published by The Washington Post showing Trump bragging about kissing and groping women without consent.

In her victory speech in Nevada, Cortez Masto noted the bittersweet mood across the nation, as Trump’s projected presidential win was about to be announced.  Cortez Masto said that if Trump becomes president, “I will promise you this, I will be one hell of a check and balance on him.”

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She said she will champion equal pay for equal work, and vowed to work toward increasing the minimum wage and pushing for paid family leave. But her most impassioned call was for comprehensive immigration reform, to protect “young people who have names, who have voices, who are fighting for their future.”

“I don’t think they should be fighting alone,” she said. “It’s not my voice I’m taking to Washington, it’s all of yours.”

Cortez Masto, who has a mixed heritage, grew up close to both sides of the family, Fusion reported, and remembers her grandmother telling stories about how her grandfather crossed the Rio Grande to come to the United States.

“I am an example of what that fight is about,” Cortez Masto told a group of high school students in Nevada in September. “Can you imagine my grandfather if he were alive today and saw his granddaughter who was the attorney general for eight years in the state now running to be the first Latina ever elected to the United States Senate? That’s incredible.”

But sending a Latina to the Senate, she said in an interview with Fusion, “should have happened a long time ago.”

Cortez Masto, who was born in Las Vegas, is the daughter of a Mexican father and Italian mother, and does not speak Spanish. Critics have harped on this fact, but others say her situation is one that many in the Latino and Hispanic community can relate to.

“What we need is someone with experience who will fight for us, not just speak Spanish words,” Fermin Ramirez, a musician and local church leader told Fusion.

After thanking Reid, her team, family and supporters, Masto told the crowd at her victory rally, “tonight we celebrate.”

But, closing in Spanish, she added, “Mañana, la luche sigue.”

Translation: “Tomorrow, the fight continues.”

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