Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto: 5 things to know about Biden’s potential vice presidential nominee

Catherine Cortez Masto made history four years ago as the first Latina elected to the U.S. Senate.

She’ll earn another chapter in the history books if former Vice President Joe Biden names the senator from Nevada as his running mate.

Here are five things to know about one of the contenders in the 2020 veepstakes.

She hails from an immigrant family who worked their way up

Cortez Masto’s paternal grandfather, Edward Cortez, was born in Mexico and immigrated to America when he was a young man. He was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1940, before serving in the Army during World War II. Edward and his wife, Mary, moved from New Mexico to Las Vegas after he returned home from the war. He worked in a bakery and Mary was a sales clerk.

Her father, Manny, after serving in the Army was the longtime head of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. He also served as Clark County commissioner and the county’s attorney.

The senator’s mother, Joanna, is from a family that emigrated from Italy.

Cortez Masto and her sister became the first in their family to graduate from college.

Reflecting on her family’s immigrant roots and journey, the senator has called it “the American Dream.”

Her legal and political background

Cortez Masto served four years as a civil attorney in Las Vegas and two as a criminal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office in the nation’s capital. She also worked as chief of staff for then-Nevada Gov. Bob Miller and was a federal criminal prosecutor in Washington, D.C.

After a couple of years as executive vice chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, she ran for state attorney general, winning the election in 2006. Cortez Masto was reelected in 2010. She focused on human trafficking and mortgage fraud during her tenure.

When longtime Sen. Harry Reid – the Senate Democratic leader – decided not to run for reelection in 2016, he endorsed Cortez Masto as his successor. She narrowly defeated Republican Rep. Joe Heck, thanks to her overwhelming margin of victory in Clark County, the state’s most populous county.

A personal experience spurred her passion about protecting seniors

Cortez Masto watched her own grandparents become targets of fraud. She told Gonzaga University’s law blog that the experience was “heartbreaking.” As a result, she stressed that “elder protection became my first priority as attorney general.”

After taking office in 2007, she urged Nevada lawmakers to give her office the power to investigate elder fraud and abuse cases. In May of that year, the governor signed into law a bill creating a special unit within the Nevada Attorney General’s Office to prosecute crimes against seniors.

She married a Secret Service agent

While serving as chief of staff for Gov. Miller in the late 1990s, Cortez Masto coordinated logistics for then-President Bill Clinton’s visit to Las Vegas. The point person on the president’s side was Paul Masto, who was a Secret Service agent at the time.

“He asked me out on a date and he said, ‘Like a good attorney, I asked you out for dinner and you negotiated for lunch,’” she recalled at a 2016 Senate debate.

She stresses role models and mentors

Cortez Masto counts her grandparents and parents as role models.

As she started her career in the law, she faced a ladder of advancement that favored men over women.

“As I moved forward as a prosecutor and then as attorney general, in the law enforcement world there were very few women,” she recounted.

And she stressed that’s why it’s so important to have mentors.

Cortez Masto says during her years as the state’s top prosecutor, she got guidance from Nevada’s first female attorney general, Frankie Sue Del Papa, which grew into a mentorship that she described as indispensable.