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August 3, 2015

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election 2012:

Heller supporters disrupt Berkley’s news conference in Reno

Image

Steve Marcus

U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., holds a news conference in the parking lot of Palo Verde High School before a rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan at the school, Aug. 14, 2012. Berkley is running for U.S. Senate against Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

Berkley News Conference

U.S. Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-NV) holds a  news conference in the parking lot of Palo Verde High School before a rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan at the school Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012. Berkley is running for U.S. Senate against Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV). Heller supporters hold up signs in the background. Launch slideshow »

The idea seemed good to Democrat Shelley Berkley’s campaign at the time: Hold a news conference in front of the Social Security building in Reno to hammer home the accusation that Republican Dean Heller wants to end Medicare and privatize Social Security.

Unfortunately for Berkley, all manner of obstacles from angry security guards to the Heller campaign and even Mother Nature conspired to block that message from getting through.

Although it’s common practice for campaigns to set up a counter-rally at an opponent’s event, they rarely encroach on the actual space being used for a news conference.

But repeating the tactic they used in Las Vegas just one day earlier, Heller’s supporters showed up en masse with a slew of campaign signs — including one measuring 5 feet in width — and crowded into the backdrop of Berkley’s news conference.

Sen. Dean Heller is shown during a dedication ceremony for the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System Las Vegas Medical Center (VASNHS) in North Las Vegas Monday, August 6, 2012.

Sen. Dean Heller is shown during a dedication ceremony for the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System Las Vegas Medical Center (VASNHS) in North Las Vegas Monday, August 6, 2012.

Although it was Berkley’s event, her supporters were a fraction of the number that Heller’s camp turned out, meaning Heller signs outnumbered Berkley signs. One miffed Berkley supporter complained it was a "slimy tactic."

Heller's group was so large that supporters spilled onto the grounds of the Social Security Administration building, prompting security guards to push the entire event onto a narrow sidewalk in front of the building. (Political events aren’t allowed on federal grounds.)

When she arrived, Berkley politely greeted supporters from both campaigns and thanked them for attending.

Then, as heavy traffic whizzed by inches from reporters’ backs and Heller supporters stood silently in the backdrop, Berkley did her best to deliver her prepared remarks.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Berkley said, accusing Heller of protecting tax breaks for oil companies. “The big guys don’t need our help; they’re doing just fine. … He is playing for the wrong team.”

Meanwhile, Berkley’s staff continued trying to placate the antsy security guards, holding them at bay while she finished her remarks.

Berkley’s Democratic strategist, Zac Petkanas, said the Heller campaign’s tactics hardly fazed Berkley. But he argued the tactic represents “an escalation” of aggressive behavior on the part of Heller’s camp.

“Look, she can handle anything; it actually motivates her,” Petkanas said. “However, I have never seen the level of disrespect for personal space for a campaign that I saw from the Heller campaign.”

Heller’s spokeswoman, Chandler Smith, said supporters simply took advantage of an opportunity.

“The public press conference presented an opportunity for volunteers to quietly and respectfully express their support for Dean Heller, which is a perfectly fair and normal activity in any campaign,” she said.

When it was time for questions at the event, the first one had nothing to do with Berkley's message of the day.

“Why here? This is crazy! I can’t even hear you!” the first reporter called out.

“It’ll never happen again!” Berkley responded.

And as questions were just wrapping up, almost as if on cue, it began to rain.

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