While what’s going on behind the scenes mostly remains unknown, in public, voters have seen an outpouring of affection for a job John Nance Garner declared was worth less than “a bucket of warm piss.” Garner was Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president.
Some of the women vying to be Joe Biden’s running-mate have appeared on late-night talk show appearances, been profiled in glossy magazines, and announced outright that they’d accept the job.
That’s not the case for Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, who has stayed out of the limelight and yet remains on most lists as a possible running mate for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Why? On paper, Cortez Masto seems like the key to a golden ticket. However, multiple sources tell CBS News that Cortez Masto might not be interested.
Cortez Masto is a native Nevadan. Her father’s family immigrated to the U.S. from Chihuahua, Mexico and her mother’s family was Italian. She understands Spanish but does not speak it. Four years ago, she became the first woman elected to the Senate from Nevada and the first Latina in history to serve.
While prominent Democrats have advocated for Biden to pick a black running mate, Cortez Masto’s background would offer diversity, too. Picking a Latina could be helpful to Biden, who has struggled to win over Latino voters during the primaries. Latino Decisions conducted a recent poll that showed Biden losing ground with Latino voters: 59% said they support or lean towards him, down from 67% in February.
Domingo Garcia, president of The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), told CBS News he’s talked with Biden about how important Latino visibility is in a Biden administration and said choosing Cortez Masto as a running mate would be a “transformative political decision.”
He also argues that picking Cortez Masto would give Biden and down-ballot Democrats a better chance to win states with dense Latino populations, including Arizona, Texas, and Florida, as well as Iowa and Wisconsin — all states that Donald Trump won in 2016.
According to Garcia, Biden’s campaign needs to increase Latino engagement if they “want to be serious about winning the election.”
“Nothing against Joe Biden picking an African-American woman […] But I think Senator Cortez Masto has some unique abilities that I think would put her heads-above all the other potential women candidates,” Garcia said.
But it’s also true that Cortez Masto lacks a national profile. This week, a CBS News poll of Democratic voters found that only 15% think she should be in the running for vice president, behind ten other women. Fellow Latina and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham polled at 10%.
Latino Decision’s April poll showed that Latino voters were overwhelmingly more likely and more motivated to vote for Biden if he chose Cortez Masto.
Cortez Masto, 56, has the kind of resume that puts her on par with other potential running mates. From 1999 to 2001 she served as a criminal prosecutor for the U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. Later, in 2007, like Senator Kamala Harris, Cortez Masto became state attorney general.
Her tenure was marked by the 2008 housing crisis, which hit Nevada hard. She pursued Bank of America to clean up fraudulent loan and lending practices in the state, and teamed up with other attorneys general, including then-California Attorney General Harris, to win a $1.9 billion settlement from BoA.
Cortez Masto served two terms as Nevada’s attorney general before replacing Senator Harry Reid in 2016.
Biden reportedly told Reid last month that Cortez Masto was among his “top three” VP contenders. CBS News has contacted Reid’s office for comment.
As state attorney general, Cortez Masto forged a personal relationship with Beau Biden, the vice president’s late son and former Delaware attorney general. She and Beau Biden worked together on multiple cases.
That relationship brought Joe Biden and Cortez Masto together in October 2016. He campaigned for her in Las Vegas, eighteen months after his son’s untimely death.
Biden spoke about his son’s relationship with Cortez Masto at length on the trail, telling voters that “the thing I love about Catherine, and my son Beau, and others is that the only reason they’re in it is to deal with the abuse of power.”
“My son had, really, very good judgment. And my son truly, truly, truly admired Catherine. He talked about her. He worked with her. They’re cut from the same cloth. She’s Latina. [Beau] suffers from being an Irish-Catholic, like me. But [sic] they have the same value set. That’s how I got to know Catherine,” Biden said.
Cortez Masto has substantial support for the job. In a statement to CBS News, fellow Nevada Senator Jacky Rosen praised all of her senate colleagues under possible VP consideration, but singled out Cortez Masto.
“I cannot think of anyone better to become the first female vice president of the United States of America,” she said in a statement.
Sue Wagner a former Nevada lieutenant governor, has worked alongside Cortez Masto on issues including equal rights for women, and rural communities. Formerly a Republican, now a self-described “non-partisan,” she said Cortez Masto would be an “excellent” running mate.
“If something happened, [and it was reported] that she did something unethical, I wouldn’t believe it. I mean, I trust her totally,” Wagner told CBS News.
Democratic State Senator Julia Ratti, who worked with Cortez Masto to fight domestic violence and sex trafficking, is similarly enthusiastic, calling Cortez Masto “fearless in terms of leaning in, and digging in, on incredibly complex, and what appear to be intractable, problems, and making a big difference.”
It’s that kind of attitude Democrats are hoping boosts her work as Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairwoman — a job which requires her to fundraise and support Democrats across the country.
Former Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook told CBS News that Cortez Masto’s key position as DSCC chair is a “significant attribute” for her vice presidential prospects, given Biden’s fundraising deficit as compared to President Trump’s reelection campaign. Taking her out of that job to run, he said, wouldn’t be a reason to pass her over.
“Not actively campaigning” for the job
Even with her credible resume, it’s possible she’s not interested in the job. On April 30, the senator appeared on Telemundo’s”Un Nuevo Dia,” her first, and only national television appearance since COVID-19 struck the U.S. since she’s been rumored to be in contention for running mate.
Cortez Masto told Telemundo she was “honored” to be considered, but when asked about other women who have said outright they’d take the job, she demurred and instead voiced her support for Biden.
She has in the past said she’s not interested in the job. In November, while taking questions from the press at Nevada Democrats’ “First In the West” dinner, she told CBS News that she would say no if offered the job of running mate.
CBS News reached out Cortez Masto’s office to see if her opinion has changed. They did not respond.
Former colleagues who spoke to CBS News agreed that it would be out of character for Cortez Masto to hype her own credentials, or focus on any job other than the one she currently holds.
Some senior Democratic strategists have echoed this, telling CBS News that Cortez Masto isn’t someone who would jockey for the number-two place on the ticket. And recently, a source with close knowledge of Cortez Masto’s political team confirmed to CBS News that she’s “not actively campaigning” to be Biden’s running mate — a trait that, this year, seems to set her apart.