New: Catherine Cortez Masto, 1st Latina U.S. senator, to headline Michigan Dems dinner

Volunteer for Chispa Nevada, Bertha Robledo, talks with Sen. Catharine Masto Cortez after a roundtable.| Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada) will be the keynote speaker for the Michigan Democratic Party’s (MDP) fourth annual Legacy Dinner on May 18 in Detroit.

MDP Chair Lavora Barnes told the Advance in an exclusive interview Tuesday afternoon that Cortez Masto, the first Latina to serve in the upper chamber, will highlight the importance of Michigan’s U.S. Senate race on the ballot in 2020.

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) walks in a hallway at the Capitol December 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. | Alex Wong, Getty Images

Cortez Masto, who was elected in 2016, also chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) — making history as the first Latina to hold that position, as well.

“I wanted someone who could put some focus on the other very important race for us in 2020, which is [that of Democratic U.S.] Gary Peters,” Barnes said. “Sen. Cortez Masto heads up the DSCC and will be very instrumental in making sure that we have the resources we need to help Gary Peters across the finish line.”

Peters, a former congressman from Bloomfield Township who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2014, raised almost $2 million in the first quarter. He recently hired longtime Democratic strategist Dan Farough to manage his campaign.

The senator does not yet have a GOP opponent. Two Republicans who lost races in 2018 have been mentioned as potential challengers: former Attorney General Bill Schuette, who fell short in his gubernatorial bid to now-Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and John James, a Farmington Hills businessman who was defeated by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing).

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters | Michael Gerstein photo

Most attention has been on the presidential race next year, with Michigan emerging as a key battleground and candidates, including President Donald Trump, already hitting the stump here.

But Barnes said she’s looking forward to Cortez Masto talking “about the importance of Michigan” in the U.S. Senate elections. The MDP chair said she expects that Michigan’s race will be in the top 10 nationally in 2020.

“I think that in any place, frankly, that Trump won in 2016 and there’s a senator up [in 2020] is going to be in that top 10 list,” Barnes said. “I know that Sen. Peters is taking it very seriously, working hard, raising money and traveling around the state, and we’re taking it seriously, as well. And I think the DSCC will definitely have it on their list because of 2016.”

The MDP event also will honor the life of the late U.S. Rep. John Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress who died in February at the age of 92.

Barnes said that the party made the decision not to invite any of the presidential contenders to speak at its biggest fundraiser, which will be held at the Renaissance Center.

“In our effort to be as neutral as possible in the presidential campaign, we did not want to give that platform to any folks running,” she said.

Lavora Barnes
MDP Chair Lavora Barnes celebrates victory, Feb. 2, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Last year, the MDP dinner featured U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who has since declared for president. She’s slated to keynote the Detroit NAACP’s 64th annual Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner on May 5.

In 2013, then-Vice President Joe Biden was the headliner. He’s expected to throw his hat in the ring this week.

In a separate event this year, the MDP women’s caucus luncheon on May 18 in Detroit will feature presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

Barnes said she expects Cortez Masto to talk about her experience as the first Latina senator and note “what we’ve got going on here in Michigan and our outreach into all communities, including that community. So I’m excited to hear what she’s got to say about Michigan, the current Michigan landscape.”

Dana Nessel in 2013
Dana Nessel, Oct. 16, 2013 | Bill Pugliano, Getty Images

Prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate, Cortez Masto was Nevada’s attorney general. Barnes said that she did a lot of work strengthening laws against violence against women, and compared her to Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel, who has ruffled conservative feathers with her progressive agenda.

“She was a badass AG,” Barnes said of the senator, “sort of in the Dana Nessel mode.”

Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.


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