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April 24, 2014

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Nevada almost misses its turn in the roll call spotlight at Democratic convention

For a split second, it seemed like Rep. Shelley Berkley had come all this way for nothing.

Nevada’s delegation had grouped together in front of their state sign Wednesday night for the official role call vote of the Democratic National Committee to nominate President Barack Obama.

The announcer called on Nebraska. And then New Hampshire.

“You skipped us!” the delegation cried. “Nevada! NEVADA!”

Turns out it was just an alphabetical error.

Berkley, along with Nevada delegation leader Roberta Lange, read out the Nevada delegation’s 43 votes for President Barack Obama. (Nevada gets 44 delegates to the DNC, but delegate Kate Marshall was a no-show.)

“This is the third time I’ve had the honor of doing this, and it’s always a thrill,” Berkley said. “It felt good. It felt good.”

But this wasn’t just a feel-good moment for Berkley. It’s also important for her chances in the coming election.

Berkley flew into Charlotte for only about 24 hours this week to meet with Nevada delegates briefly over breakfast, where she paused for pictures and hellos and a slice of bacon she begged attendees to keep secret from her rabbi. She also attended a lunch – a closed-door affair – and then there was Wednesday night’s moment in front of the cameras.

“I just thought it was important to be here to give my support to the president and his middle class values and agenda,” Berkley told reporters Wednesday morning.

But she also has to be hoping this fly-in may yield future fly-ins from the president – and a corresponding downticket boost.

Despite their support for Obama’s agenda, Nevada Democrats in competitive races, including Berkley, started this election cycle keeping a safe distance from the president, as they sought to establish themselves as candidates for the whole, swing state of Nevada.

But despite months of effort to establish herself, Berkley has not been able to break through poll numbers in the northern urban counties, an area of the state she needs to perform well in to beat her incumbent Republican opponent, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller.

Obama plays much better in Washoe County and the surrounding areas than Berkley. And the campaign is prepared to start using some of that relative clout to help put Berkley over the top.

Obama’s surrogates have spent the week tossing Berkley shout-outs as they pitch Nevada’s already-committed delegation on Obama. Democratic Governors’ Association head Gov. Martin O’Malley promised to come out as much as needed, and according to senior campaign adviser Robert Gibbs, the president, vice president and others will likely be making trips to Nevada to promote themselves and Berkley in the few weeks remaining in the election.

During the Charlotte convention, however, Berkley kept a relatively low profile: She did not appear in an event featuring Congressional women, though she later said she was in town at the time, and was not offered a speaking role in the proceedings like some Democratic Senate challengers, such as Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren.

Party leaders downplayed the significance of her absence at the podium.

“We have a lot of wonderful candidates for the United States Senate and sadly they can’t all speak,” said Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “Shelley Berkley is one of the most important races in the country. Her not having a formal speaking role doesn’t diminish the importance of her race at all.”

But Berkley’s opponents charge that it speaks volumes about how much confidence the party, and Nevadans, have in Berkley as a candidate.

“Nevadans don’t want a rerun of Obama’s failed economic policies, and they certainly don’t want ethically challenged Shelley Berkley representing them,” said Darren Littell, spokesman for the Republican National Committee in Nevada. “If Berkley is hoping to ride President Obama’s coat tails to victory, she’s in for a rude awakening.”

Nevada is currently one of five states that the Obama campaign appears to be focusing its best wooing efforts on, at least in the context of the DNC. It is also one of about eight states Democrats are focusing on as they struggle to keep the Senate blue.

Depending on how close the polls are on election night, Nevada might be the state that decides the entire makeup of Washington come November.

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