Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011 | 8:13 p.m.
Sometimes, it’s the personal touch that counts.
Or at least that’s what U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., was banking on this Wednesday, when he made a round of calls to Nevada reporters to stress the talking points of a press release calling on U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., his main opponent in the 2012 race for Nevada’s second U.S. Senate seat, to vote in favor of a balanced budget amendment she’s trashed as irresponsible since Day One.
“For the first time in the history of this country, in 240 years? The average parent and grandparent believes they are passing on to their children a lower quality of life than they have,” Heller said, asking if he could share some important statistics. “In Nevada, and I have talked to literally thousands of Nevadans, and have asked them this question, and north of two-thirds believe today that they’re going to pass on a quality of life less than what they have. ... There’s so much uncertainty out there today. That uncertainty has to do with this government’s inability to budget.”
Etc., etc., so Berkley should vote for the balanced budget amendment, he concluded. “I’m just calling on Berkley to oppose the reckless spending she’s been engaged in,” he said.
But Heller’s not the only Senate candidate giving reporters one-on-one quality time to hammer home the particulars of his position. On Thursday, Berkley — after having to cut short a telephone press conference she'd scheduled to counter-slam Heller — did the same, dialing Nevada reporters one by one to ask if they had any questions for her.
Yes, in fact. Why all of a sudden were the candidates in this Senate race so eager to give us reporters such personalized, albeit scripted, attention?
Berkley chuckled before answering.
“It is intense and it is early, but I think this is a very important issue, and may very well be among those defining issues that claim the election,” she explained before launching into her stump speech about why she thought the balanced budget amendment was a bad idea.
“I agree that we have to move toward balancing our budget, our current spending is unsustainable, but I refuse to balance the nation’s budget on the back of our seniors and our veterans,” she said. “If we’re talking about a balanced budget amendment, how about we start with the easy stuff...eliminating those tax subisides for oil companies and the wealthiest Americans?”
But this pattern of political posturing didn’t all start with a difference of opinion over the balanced budget amendment; a difference of opinion that both Berkley and Heller have registered, repeatedly, going back for months now. It’s only resurfacing because another vote on the balanced budget amendment is coming up in the House Friday: part of the August agreement on the debt ceiling bill — the same one that created the super committee — is that both the House and Senate take one more stab at a balanced budget amendment.
Berkley and Heller have been bickering through the middleman of the media on almost every economic issue that’s come up since they both declared their candidacy, the most recent examples being over legislation to censure China’s currency manipulation practices, and to extend unemployment insurance benefits.
In those cases, it’s been Berkley who’s gone to the media-mat first, not with personalized telephone calls, but with multiple telephonic press briefings, floor speeches, and a flurry of emails. She had just sent one of those Wednesday morning, recalling Heller’s ill-chosen comments in 2010 suggesting that unemployment insurance helped the government in “creating hobos” and calling on him to vote in favor of legislation to extend emergency unemployment benefits.
“I’m not sure the reason or the purpose of calling me out on that — I’ve already shown I’m willing to take a bipartisan position on that to take care of people,” Heller said.
But within a few hours, Heller was on the offensive with his press release and round of phone calls pressing Berkley on balanced budgets.
The upshot of this? Clearly it’s game on, 2012 style.
“We’re a year away? And you’re already cranking up every tool you’ve got ... you’re already starting to see the equivalent of negative ads,” said University of Nevada, Reno, political science professor Eric Herzik. “They’re starting early and often, talking to the press, finding any issue ... because both of these candidates know this race is just gonna be a slugfest.”