Obama, GOP’S Heller to split Ne­vada ticket?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

RENO, NEV. | Demo­cratic op­er­a­tives in Ne­vada are pump­ing vot­ers here to the polls like nick­els into a slot ma­chine, and yet their ef­forts may not be enough for Se­nate can­di­date Rep. Shel­ley Berkley.

The Demo­cratic con­gress­woman con­tin­ues to trail Repub­li­can Sen. Dean Heller — nar­rowly but per­sis­tently — in most polls. A Ras­mussen Re­ports sur­vey re­leased Oct. 25 found Mr. Heller lead­ing by a mar­gin of 50 per­cent to 45 per­cent, while an NBC News/Wall Street Jour­nal Marist Col­lege poll on Oct. 26 put the Repub­li­can in­cum­bent’s lead at 48 per­cent to 45 per­cent.

Real Clear Pol­i­tics has him ahead by an av­er­age of 3.7 points.

The Berkley cam­paign ben­e­fits from a crack­er­jack Demo­cratic Party ground game that has al­ready re­sulted in 23,000 more Demo­cratic than Repub­li­can bal­lots cast in early vot­ing, which be­gan Oct. 29, ac­cord­ing to county fig­ures posted by the re­spected po­lit­i­cal news­let­ter Ral­ston Re­ports.

Reg­is­tered Democrats out­num­ber Republicans by more than 130,000, ac­cord­ing to the Ne­vada Sec­re­tary of State’s Of­fice. That dif­fer­en­tial is one rea­son Pres­i­dent Obama is in­creas­ingly fa­vored over Repub­li­can Mitt Rom­ney in the pres­i­den­tial race here, al­though most polls still rate the pres­i­den­tial con­test a tossup.

But Pete Er­naut, a vet­eran Ne­vada po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and pres­i­dent of R&R Part­ners in Las Ve­gas, summed up the thoughts of many politi­cos when he pre­dicted Oct. 29 that the state could split for Demo­crat Obama and Repub­li­can Heller.

“If Gov. Rom­ney car­ries Ne­vada, with­out a doubt Heller will win the Se­nate race,” said Mr. Er­naut on the Oct. 22 edition of the “Ne­vada Newsmakers” tele­vi­sion show. “I don’t think there is a Rom­ney-Berkley vot­ing bloc. But there is clearly an Obama-Heller vot­ing bloc.”

Mr. Heller, a for­mer House mem­ber from Car­son City ap­pointed to the Se­nate seat in May 2011 af­ter the res­ig­na­tion of scan­dal-plagued GOP Sen. John En­sign, has po­si­tioned him­self as a prag­matic Repub­li­can able to get along with law­mak­ers on both sides of the aisle, while paint­ing his Demo­cratic foe as a hard-core par­ti­san who “voted 95 per­cent of the time with Nancy Pelosi,” as one pro-Heller ad states.

The Demo­cratic Se­na­to­rial Cam­paign Com­mit­tee shot back with a com­mer­cial that says Mr. Heller voted over 90 per­cent of the time with Republicans. “He’s re­ally not for you,” says the tagline in anti-Heller ads run by the Berkley camp.

But Ms. Berkley, now in her seventh House term rep­re­sent­ing Las Ve­gas, has been un­able to shake the neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity re­sult­ing from the House Ethics Com­mit­tee’s de­ci­sion in July to launch an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into her ad­vo­cacy for a kid­ney-transplant cen­ter. Her hus­band, Dr. Larry Lehrner, had a con­tract with the fa­cil­ity.

“Shel­ley Berkley is a flawed can­di­date with an ethics in­ves­ti­ga­tion hang­ing over her head,” said Eric Herzik, po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at the Univer­sity of Ne­vada at Reno. “The only way Berkley is car­ried in with Obama is if we have a wave like we had in 2008. It would have to be a pretty heavy lift to pull Shel­ley Berkley across the line.”

At the same time, Ne­vada Repub­li­can can­di­dates have been hurt by an in­tra­party feud that re­sulted in a takeover of the state and Clark County or­ga­ni­za­tions by loy­al­ists of lib­er­tar­ian-lean­ing Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. In de­fi­ance of party rules, the state del­e­ga­tion cast 17 of its 28 nom­i­nat­ing votes for Mr. Paul at the na­tional con­ven­tion in Au­gust, with five more del­e­gates ab­stain­ing.

Sup­port­ers of Mr. Rom­ney re­sponded, form­ing Team Ne­vada, a Repub­li­can get-out-thevote group oper­at­ing in­de­pen­dently of the state GOP. While the re­sult has been an im­proved grass-roots game, an­a­lysts agree Democrats still have the ad­van­tage, thanks to Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid’s vaunted or­ga­ni­za­tion cou­pled with the Obama cam­paign’s ground troops.

Mr. Herzik says he’s al­ready been vis­ited three times at his home in Reno by Demo­cratic vol­un­teers ask­ing if he’s voted yet — and he lives in a Repub­li­can­ma­jor­ity precinct.

For­tu­nately for Mr. Heller, 52, this isn’t his first run for of­fice. Be­fore he was ap­pointed to the Se­nate in 2011, he served as a state leg­is­la­tor, sec­re­tary of state and con­gress­man, al­low­ing him to build his own statewide cam­paign in­fra­struc­ture.

Ms. Berkley, 61, has served in Congress for 14 years, but had never run for of­fice out­side her Las Ve­gas dis­trict be­fore this year. In­tro­duc­ing her­self to north Ne­vada vot­ers un­der the cloud of an ethics probe hasn’t been op­ti­mal.

In their fi­nal Se­nate de­bate Oct. 15, Ms. Berkley stressed that when she fought to keep open the transplant cen­ter, “my one and only con­cern was for the health and well-be­ing of the pa­tients in Ne­vada.”

“They are go­ing through this process; at the end of this process, there is ab­so­lutely no doubt in my mind, in spite of the ac­cu­sa­tions by my op­po­nent, that it will be de­ter­mined that I did ab­so­lutely noth­ing wrong,” she said.

That Ms. Berkley is still de­fend­ing her­self against ac­cu­sa­tions of cor­rup­tion in­di­cates the cam­paign nar­ra­tive hasn’t gone her way. “I just think she has too much bag­gage, and her base is too much in Clark County,” said Mr. Herzik.

The Heller camp may be pri­vately ner­vous about the Demo­cratic vot­ing edge to date, but an­a­lysts note that Ne­vada vot­ers are known for their in­de­pen­dence.

“Dean Heller has a great cam­paign, and he’s re­ally work­ing it,” said Robin Reedy, a prin­ci­pal with RPoli­tix, a Ne­vada po­lit­i­cal-con­sult­ing firm. “I think some of those Democrats go­ing in to vote are prob­a­bly vot­ing for Dean.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sen. Dean Heller, Ne­vada Repub­li­can, has po­si­tioned him­self as a prag­matic GOP politi­cian able to get along with law­mak­ers on both sides of the aisle.

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