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April 27, 2015

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Berkley, Heller trade barbs in testy first debate



Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., debates his challenger, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., at the Reno public television studios, Sept. 27, 2012 as Mitch Fox, center, moderates.

Updated Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012 | 10:35 p.m.

Little new came from the first face-off between Republican Dean Heller and his Democratic rival Shelley Berkley in their U.S. Senate contest. Speaking from a Reno public television studio, both candidates recycled lines from their caustic TV ads and campaign trail-worn stump speeches.

It was testy, for sure, with a tone to match the increasingly bitter dialogue that has so far characterized the campaigns. Heller accused Berkley of being a liar and lacking character, and Berkley accused Heller of trying to kill Medicare and repeatedly hammered home her argument that he prioritizes big business over middle-class Nevadans.

In the early moments of the debate, both candidates paid homage to efforts to “reach across the aisle” and buck their party’s marching orders. Berkley touted the Nevada delegation’s bipartisan efforts to block the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump and Heller rattled off pieces of legislation he co-sponsored with high-profile Democratic lawmakers.

But the tenuous comity ended there.

In the second question of the night, Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Ray Hagar asked Heller if he believes Nevada’s jobless are “hobos,” referring to a 2010 speech in which Heller used the label while questioning whether prolonging unemployment benefits would leave Americans forever unable to find work.

The Berkley campaign has used that line from Heller’s speech to accuse him of calling jobless Nevadans “hobos.”

Heller denied it outright.

“This is one of the most difficult parts of an election and that is proving something you did not do or something you did not say,” Heller said. “And in this case, this is something I did not do and I did not say.”

Heller went on to say he believes “it’s the responsibility this federal government has to help those who have come by hard times in this economy.”

But Berkley wouldn’t let it slide.

“Look, the fact of the matter is my opponent actually did call unemployed people hobos and that puts him very much in line with what Mitt Romney said about the 47 percent,” Berkley said.

The tone of the debate withered from there.

In his opening line, Heller hinted at the contrast he would draw with Berkley, who is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee on allegations she backed policies that would financially benefit her husband.

“My dad believed that if you played by the rules, you’d be rewarded,” Heller said. “And if you didn’t play by the rules, there would be consequences.”

When the issue of Berkley’s ethics investigation was raised by Hagar, Berkley repeated her defense that she was working to protect the health of Nevadans, not her family’s financial interests. Berkley lobbied her colleagues to protect Medicare reimbursement rates for kidney care. Her husband is a nephrologist in Las Vegas.

“You know my opponent has attacked me on this and I can take these attacks,” Berkley said. “What I can’t take are the attacks on the people of the state of Nevada.”

She then pivoted again to accusing Heller of supporting tax breaks for big oil companies.

But Heller didn’t let the opportunity go by to attack Berkley once more on ethics.

“Character matters,” he said. “It matters in life and it matters in the U.S .Senate. My opponent has a big problem. Do you know how unusual it is for the Ethics Committee to move forward on an investigation like this? It’s big. It’s huge. And she can’t get away from it.”

Berkley took the offensive when the question of immigration and the Dream Act was broached. Heller deflected the question of why he voted against the measure that would give citizenship to students and military service members brought to the United States illegally as young children.

Instead, he said Democrats in charge of the Senate have refused to negotiate with the minority party, arguing that the two sides “agree on 80 percent of the topics.”

But Berkley portrayed Heller as an aggressively anti-immigration candidate, pointing out his expressed support for Arizona’s far reaching immigration law — most of which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The one thing I can’t believe he is opposed to is the Dream Act,” Berkley said. “He voted against it. Not 80 percent, not 20 percent, he voted against 100 percent of it.”

As the debate progressed, Heller became more visibly irritated at the way Berkley portrayed his record, bristling when she accused him of opposing benefits for homeless veterans.

“I’m convinced that my opponent’s motto is ‘It’s not a lie if I can convince Nevadans to believe it,’” he said.

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  1. Cutie pie Shelly suffers from the fact that she looks like a Golden Retriever. But I think she will beat the Redneck from Reno. Just a guess.....

  2. It was very clear that heller was very nervous about his relationship with Romney,Ryan,having voted twice for a Medicare voucher program and for voting against the dream act. This man is not a senator he is just a party hack

  3. Yucca Mountain will get new life if Romney-Ryan are elected. Nuclear power will be part of his energy policy, including places to dump the garbage.

    I doubt the NV delegation will have an ounce of power to stop it, no matter which party they are in.

  4. It's about time Heller was nailed to the wall to defend the short time he has spent in the Senate and his abysmal record so far.

    Heller is not a Tea Partier, but he sure seems to side with them all the time. He recently blocked a Nevada emergency judicial need for a Federal judge. Not because of anything other than he stands firm with the Tea/Republican Party policy of grinding the gears of government down to a standstill for purely political party purposes.

    The thing that will sink Heller is the simple fact that he is not the text book idea of an incumbent. He was appointed to this Senate Seat by another Tea/Republican (Governor Sandoval). Because the previous Tea/Republican (Ensign) was forced to quit in total disgrace or face being either thrown out and/or criminally charged for corruption. Heller was appointed. Not elected. Not popularly elected. He didn't campaign for this job. He didn't go through a primary. APPOINTED. If he's an incumbent, it fits that definition by a narrow margin. I didn't have a choice in the matter. Nor did anyone else. We were stuck with him. He's just a warm body filling a seat because the one before was a disaster (Ensign). And now it's time to tell him to leave and show him the door.

    He doesn't deserve that Senate Seat. Heller's voting record is EXACTLY the same as Ensign's. Even while he was in the House, he participated wholeheartedly in only party politics. And he could care less about Nevada. Nevada would continue to get nowhere with him as a Senator. It would be nothing by stupid silly Tea/Republican Party games that only serve themselves and the rich they kowtow to all the time.

    Vote Berkley 2012!

  5. When Berkley was asked about an apparent ethical situation regarding a conflict of interest, she immediately went on the attack of her opponent rather than address the question. Is that the kind of representation Nevada wants for itself?

  6. Its very clear that Sen Heller is a poor candidate. To begin with I have noticed that both he and Cong Heck have really distanced themselves from the national election. Yet they have both voted in lock step with the national republican party. Heller voted twice to frankly begin the slippery slope to discontinue Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
    This country for many years had defined pensions and everyone managed very nicely. Then companies started to shift people into 401ks with the excuse that workers wanted more portability. Now 2 major corporations are starting the same tactics on Medical care. You know where that will end up,
    What these republicans attempt to sell and tell is that they have to cut Medicaid. Thinking most people wont care becuase it doesnt affect them
    People don't understand when your in a nursing home and your money runs out they presently dont kick you out because they are paid by medicaid. Good luck to all the middle class if you let these Republicans sweet talk you out of your benefits. These programs do need adjustments just not the way that the Repubs would like it to happen
    Cheney once said deficits dont matter , Remember that, It was a real ruse to accept the load up in debt and then in order to cure the supposed debt they would gut social security, medicare ,medicaid.
    People will get what they deserve if they don't pay attention and if they vote Republican just because,

  7. Nice that Shelley got her liberal army to post here. But Heller will win hands down. He'll hold her even in Vegas and wipe the floor with her in the rest of the state.

  8. Mr Griffith your totally wrong. I am a registered independent . I am like justice Roberts I call them as I see them. Just take a breath and open your eyes and check Hellers record on voting you can google it

  9. Let's just say it guys; Berkely needs to go, Heller needs to get a clue. Neither candidate is ideal for Nevada so it just boils down to picking the lesser of two evils: The Redneck from Reno or the Golden Retriever who's lips look like they got sucked into a swimming pool drain.