Las Vegas Sun

August 22, 2019

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Berkley’s husband flipped houses for profit, but is that news?

Last week, Republicans circulated a story to Nevada reporters about Rep. Shelley Berkley’s husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, who’s been buying up and reselling foreclosed properties in Las Vegas.

The news that Lehrner had made about $86,000 from the sale of two formerly foreclosed properties and was renting out other previously troubled properties he purchased blew up the airwaves and blogosphere for about 48 hours. This week, no one’s talking about it.

Berkley and Sen. Dean Heller are facing off in what could be a close contest to fill former Sen. John Ensign’s seat in 2012. Winning such elections is, in part, about creating impressions: good ones of you, and bad ones of your opponent.

Heller’s backers appear to think Lehrner is a potential drag on Berkley’s campaign, but so far that line of attack hasn’t caused her poll numbers to sink.

Lehrner first drew negative attention to Berkley in September when The New York Times published a story noting that her husband’s kidney care practice — the only comprehensive one in Las Vegas — had benefited from work Berkley did advocating for federal attention and funding of kidney services.

The fallout of that article lasted a few weeks, including an ethics watchdog group raising questions about Berkley’s conduct in a report about corruption in Congress.

A week later, Berkley reported campaign numbers that showed her outraising Heller almost 2-to-1, and about a month later, Berkley closed a six-point polling gap, tying with her opponent, 45 percent to 45 percent.

No poll numbers have been released that would show the impact of the latest news on Lehrner (which also differs from Kidneygate because it’s campaign-focused opposition research from the Republicans, not an independently researched news story). But comparatively, it’s falling flat; even some conservative outlets defended Berkley on this one.

“There isn’t any sort of ethical issue here,” UNLV professor David Damore said. “And at the end of the day this is exactly what the Republicans are telling people to do: Let the market take care of (the housing crisis). Let investors come in. That might be why things are somewhat more muted this time around.”

“Muted” isn’t necessarily a loss for Heller though. Heller still got something out of the story: a usable headline.

“At the end of the day, if it’s a one-day story you’re going to win the day,” Damore said.

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