CARSON CITY, Nev., Nov. 8 (UPI) -- Catherine Cortez Masto has defeated Rep. Joe Heck to help Democrats retain the open Senate seat in Nevada, keeping their slim hopes of a Senate majority alive.
Her victory was first projected by NBC News.
The victory means Democrats retain the lone seat on the Senate battleground map that was in Democratic hands. The opening was created by the retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Cortez Masto was Reid's handpicked successor.
Cortez Masto, a native of the Silver State, served as Nevada Attorney General between 2007 and 2015. Before she took public office, she was a civil attorney in Las Vegas and then a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C. In 2014, she became executive vice chancellor for the Nevada System of Higher Education.
In 2009, Cortez Masto became embroiled in a political controversy for attempting to prosecute Republican Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki for mismanagement of state funds. The case was ultimately dropped when it was learned that her husband was a supporter of Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, Robert Randazzo.
In 2012, though a Democrat, she briefly defended Nevada's ban on same-sex marriage but later abandoned that defense when an appeals court and subsequently the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay unions.
Cortez Masto, 52, won the Democratic primary by a landslide 81 percent of the vote in May.
Heck was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 and was re-elected in 2012 and 2014. However, he was required to vacate his seat to run for Reid's in the Senate.
The 55-year-old congressman served in the Nevada Senate between 2004 and 2008, and is a board-certified physician and veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve, where he reached the rank of brigadier general. He served multiple deployments to Iraq and was part of Operation Joint Endeavor, a peace campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the mid-1990s.
Before his election to the state senate, Heck was a medical director at a government-run university near Washington, D.C., a former volunteer firefighter and member of the Las Vegas Police Department's search and rescue team. After leaving the Nevada Senate, he owned Specialized Medical Operations, a medical training and support firm for federal law enforcement agencies.
At this year's Republican primary, Heck beat out a long list of GOP contenders with 65 percent of the vote.