Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada just became America’s first-ever Latina senator.
Cortez Masto was elected to the seat previously held by Minority Leader Harry Reid, who is retiring after 30 years in the Senate and is also a Democrat.
It was an extremely competitive race, with Cortez Mastro beating Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Heck. The contest has been closely watched—and reportedly became one of the most expensive in the state’s history—due in large part to the role it plays in determining which party will gain control of the Senate.
Cortez Masto, who is the granddaughter of a Mexican immigrant, was a two-term Nevada attorney general, holding the post from 2007 to 2015. She ran on a platform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, raising the minimum wage, and investing in clean energy.
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Nevada has the 14th largest Hispanic population in the U.S., with Latinos accounting for 36% of the state’s residents, according to the Pew Research Center. Hispanic voters have been a force to be reckoned with this election, which some suggesting that they will determine the outcome of the presidential contest.
That surge in the Hispanic vote was not enough to save the second Latina vying for a Senate seat, Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez. Sanchez, who was also running for a freshly vacated spot—this one belonging to retiring fellow Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer—was part of one of the most interesting races of the year: a showdown with California attorney general Kamala Harris, another Dem. The two women found themselves facing off thanks to a California law that calls for a runoff between the top two primary election vote-getters of any party.
Harris, who is only the second African American woman to be elected to the Senate, had the edge on Sanchez in spending (laying out a reported $12 million or so to Sanchez’s $3.1 million) and endorsements. The state Attorney General had the backing of Democratic leaders President Obama, Sen. Boxer, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and California governor Gerry Brown.