Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010 | 2:01 a.m.
In a state Senate race that could be won by either party, voters are getting a clear choice between a highly educated Democrat, the son of Israeli immigrants, and a young mother of three who is a fiscally conservative Republican.
Although Democrats hold a slight advantage among registered voters, the outgoing senator is a Republican. The stakes are high: A Democratic win here and in one more district would give the party a two-thirds majority in the Senate that could sway budget decisions, override the governor’s vetoes and perhaps push through redistricting that favors the party in the future.
But back to the candidates.
Republican Elizabeth Halseth has refused to debate her opponent, Benny Yerushalmi, whom she said is “just like Barack Obama.”
Halseth said she was approached 14 days before early voting began Oct. 16 and needed the time to knock on doors — not debate.
Yerushalmi said he is open to a debate and hopes Halseth would step forward. He said her unwillingness is proof that she “doesn’t have the experience to run on her own merit.”
Halseth said: “I’m not going to waste my time,” and added that she would win a debate anyway.
If there were a debate, the pair would probably see eye-to-eye on some issues, including the importance of attracting small businesses to Nevada through incentives (Halseth says tax breaks, Yerushalmi says zoning for specific technological industries and bolstering higher education in Nevada), and reallocating school money from administrators to the classroom.
There are 138,254 registered voters in District 9, according to the secretary of state’s website. Included are 55,120 Democrats, 51,899 Republicans and 23,721 registered as nonpartisan.
Yerushalmi, 36, scoffed at the claim that he’s like Obama.
“Maybe her political strategy is that she would like to be running against a national agenda,” he said. “She doesn’t want to run against me.”
Eric Herzik, a UNR political scientist, said framing local races in national terms is part of “the conservative game plan this year.”
“You can have local races where they’re campaigning against Obamacare,” Herzik said. “I guess you can make a connection to that … it’s a stretch, but if it motivates a base of voters, most politicians have no shame when it comes to campaigning.”
Halseth, 27, declined further comment beyond an initial interview with the Sun, saying she was “busy with voters” and the Sun “already made up (its) mind about the race,” referring to the newspaper’s endorsements of state Senate candidates.
When informed that the editorial board works independently of beat reporters, Halseth still declined. The Las Vegas Review-Journal also endorsed Yerushalmi.
Calls to McKay Daniels, Halseth’s campaign consultant, were not returned.
Halseth describes herself as a fiscal conservative. She said she’s a small information technology business owner with her husband of nine years.
In some ways, Yerushalmi is like Obama. He describes himself as a “moderate Democrat.” He has a law degree from Stanford and an MBA from UCLA. He returned to Nevada after graduate school to work in his family’s chain of jewelry stores. “He has a law degree he doesn’t use,” Halseth said.
“We need to start having real people making real decisions,” she said. “I think the place for attorneys is the judicial races.”
Real people, she said, are families who are “worried about public schools.” Anyone, she said, who is “hurting right now.”
Yerushalmi said he thinks his law degree will help him understand the laws he’ll be voting on if he’s elected.
“If I look at her race and what she’s trying to do, she’s not running on her experience,” he said. This is the first run for office for both candidates.
Halseth said she’s taking a break from pursuing an MBA from Corban University, a Christian college where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
She has three children, ages 8, 7 and 6 years old. “I’m the only candidate in the race that has children,” she said. Yerushalmi, she said, doesn’t have the stake in the state’s educational system she does.
Yerushalmi, whose wife is pregnant with the couple’s first child, calls the accusation “nonsense.”
“It does anger me because this is the community I was born and raised in,” he said, adding that he is a 1991 graduate of Clark High School. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Dennis Nolan is the incumbent Republican in District 9. Halseth defeated him in the primary after Nolan left a voice mail for the sister of a rape victim in which he says it would be “financially beneficial” for her to “consider telling the truth.” In the message, Nolan is referring to a friend of his who was convicted of the crime.
Much as 2008 was a good year to be a Democrat, Herzik said this year the Republican base is fired up.
If Democrats pick up key seats, however, he said it will reveal a deep divide — which exists between extreme Tea Party Republicans and traditional conservatives — within the Nevada Republican Party that the group will have to deal with after election season.