Prodded by opponent, Heller distances himself from Limbaugh

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., today joined the ranks of politicians condemning conservative radio talker Rush Limbaugh, issuing a rebuke after Senate opponent Shelley Berkley called him out on his silence.

Limbaugh has lost almost four dozen sponsors to his nationally syndicated show and has been condemned by a range of figures including some Republicans in Congress.

Things blew up on Limbaugh last week after he called Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" after she spoke out in favor of expanded access to birth control. He has since apologized, but Fluke says she questioned his sincerity.

For Democrats, Limbaugh's travails have been a gift, enabling them to issue fundraising appeals using him as a foil, and providing a new opening to link Republicans to the right-wing media figure.

Berkley, a seven-term congresswoman, has done both. She sent out a fundraising missive noting Heller had not spoken up against Limbaugh. But after Berkley held a press call trying to link the two as allies in a "radical anti-woman agenda," the Nevada Republican commented through his campaign spokeswoman.

“Dean Heller thinks Mr. Limbaugh’s comments are offensive and have no place in public discourse," Heller spokeswoman Chandler Smith said. "Congresswoman Berkley’s latest attack is, as usual, wildly off target. If she has a problem with Mr. Limbaugh, maybe she should attack him.”

Talking to reporters, Berkley said from her perspective Heller was more dangerous than Limbaugh because he has a vote in the Senate, and has cast it in favor of bills that she contended would roll back women's health rights.

Berkley continued to target Heller's vote last week in favor of the so-called Blunt amendment that would have allowed employers and insurers to opt out of parts of the health care reform law they found morally unacceptable, including a requirement to cover the cost of birth control. The amendment was defeated, 51-48.

Berkley said the amendment would have rolled back women's health opportunities.

"The fight in this country is between two sides right now," Berkley said. "One side is standing up for Nevada women and the other side, the Rush Limbaugh side, is trying to turn the clock back to the 1950s on women's health services. I am old enough to remember those years and I remember how difficult it was for women to get good health care and birth control."

Heller has said Berkley is mischaracterizing his vote, which he said was against the health care law and provisions on contraception he believed to be unconstitutional. He had objected they amounted to government intrusion into religion.

"I have supported access to contraception in the past, and I will continue to support contraception accessibility to women in the future," Heller said following the vote last Thursday.