Shelley Berkley Takes Chance on Senate

With Senate in Balance, Nevada Lawmaker Runs for Key Seat

Vegas Showdown: Rep. Shelley Berkley had a safe Congressional seat. She decided to roll the dice on a run for the Senate, with control of the chamber on the line.
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Vegas Showdown: Rep. Shelley Berkley had a safe Congressional seat. She decided to roll the dice on a run for the Senate, with control of the chamber on the line.

By Nathan Guttman

Published September 13, 2012, issue of September 21, 2012.
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While Berkley is largely viewed as a moderate Democrat and a strong supporter of health care reform, on issues relating to Israel and national security she holds hawkish views. Berkley voted to authorize the war in Iraq and, as a former activist of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, she is one of the most reliable votes AIPAC has when it promotes its pro-Israel legislation. During the Democratic convention in Charlotte, Berkley was at an AIPAC breakfast when she learned that her party decided to drop any reference to Jerusalem from its platform. She immediately made some phone calls and, according to her own account, was “very forceful in my sentiments” urging party leaders to change the platform.

“She is one of the most ardent supporters of Israel, everyone would agree,” said David Harris, president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council. He added that Berkley is “widely loved” by Nevada Jewish voters. The Jewish population in Nevada has grown following the state’s population boom, and currently there are an estimated 75,000 Jewish residents in Nevada, making up nearly 3% of the population.

Heller also prides himself on having a pro-Israel record. Although he is a strong supporter of budget cuts, he made clear that Israel would be exempt of an across-the-board slash. He also voted in favor of all recent pro-Israel legislation items in Congress.

Israel, however, is not a major concern for Nevadans and is not playing a role in the state’s Senate elections. Nevada holds the nation’s record in unemployment, with 11.6% of its residents without jobs. And according to estimates, a majority of Nevadans have seen a significant drop in their home values, making their homes worth less than their mortgages. Nevada is also a leader in foreclosures, because of the real estate market collapse.

Still, the economic crisis has not moved Nevada voters to the anti-Obama camp automatically. “The Republican message has not taken hold,” said Herzik, who explained that a Republican tax-cut message does not resonate well in a state that has one of the lowest tax rates in the nation. In addition, homeowners with underwater mortgages still expect government assistance, which they believe is more likely to come from the Democrats.

Berkley, experts say, enjoys Nevada’s strong Democratic organization, which is already leading in registering voters, as well as union support that can help her secure votes. Her southern Nevada orientation is also seen as an advantage compared with Heller, who is less known in the state’s most populated region.

Damore added that all bets might be off given Nevadan’s past tendency to split the ticket — voting for a presidential candidate from one party and congressional candidates from another.

“It’s a wildcard,” he said, “but it happened in the past.”

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


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