New Democratic challenger in Senate race doesn't worry Berkley

Rep. Shelley Berkley on Thursday dismissed a new Democratic opponent as she seeks to replace Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican.

Berkley said she isn't concerned by Las Vegas businessman Barry Ellsworth's primary election challenge for the Senate and she remains focused on defeating Heller in the general election Nov. 6.

"No, it doesn't bother me at all," Berkley said when asked by a reporter about Ellsworth's entry into the Senate contest. "This is a democracy. Anyone can run who wants to. ... I'm highlighting the differences between Dean Heller and myself."

In response, Ellsworth said he won't be ignored. He said Berkley is part of the problem in Congress, which contributed to the U.S. economic downturn by loosening rules on Wall Street.

"This Senate seat belongs to the people of Nevada, not to whichever career politician is next in line," Ellsworth said. "Shelley has been in Washington too long. ... She can stay focused on Dean Heller. I am going to stay focused on solving our problems."

Berkley's dismissal of Ellsworth came after a news conference she called to tout a bill she plans to introduce when the House returns from its holiday break. The measure would extend a 30 percent tax credit for U.S. Companies that build clean energy projects such as wind and solar. The tax credit has created an estimated 17,000 jobs nationwide and hundreds in Nevada, she said.

Berkley said the clean energy tax credits would be paid for by ending some of the $21 billion in U.S. subsidies to oil companies — which Heller voted eight times to protect, she added.

Berkley said Nevada voters have a choice between backing her for the Senate so she can help create clean energy jobs or supporting Heller's "agenda protecting taxpayer giveaways to big oil companies and corporations that ship jobs overseas."

A spokesman for Heller said the senator supports both tax credits for renewable energy and reform to close business tax loopholes.

"Senator Heller has a long history of supporting responsible tax credits for renewable energy production," said spokesman Stewart Bybee. "Moreover, he supports tax reform that closes loopholes and broadens the tax base."

The issue of job creation and taking advantage of Nevada's clean energy potential is expected to remain a hot issue in the close Senate race. The state's jobless rate is 13 percent, highest in the nation. Nevada's vast land and weather have made it an attractive site for renewable energy, although the industry often requires tax breaks and cheap U.S. loans to succeed.

Berkley's Democratic opponent, Ellsworth, has had a successful career in clean energy and could gain some support there.

In 2004, he founded Green Plains Renewable Energy, a company now the fourth largest ethanol firm in the world. He ran it until selling a portion of his interest a few years ago. He now invests through his Las Vegas firm, SAE Capital Partners.

The 57-year-old entrepreneur said Wednesday he has been friends with Berkley, and has donated to her campaigns in the past. But he said he came to the conclusion that Berkley is part of the problem in Congress that has the nation — and Nevada — struggling.

He said she supported financial deregulation bills in the late 1990s and early 2000s that set the stage for the housing bubble and mischief by Wall Street traders that caused the near-collapse of the economy, for example.

He also criticized the Troubled Asset Relief Program — the TARP bill to rescue big banks.

A previous Democratic challenger, Las Vegas businessman Byron Georgiou, dropped out of the race last year after his financial dealings were closely examined in opposition research leaked to the press. He quit under pressure from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Berkley's most powerful Democratic ally.