Democratic U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley will campaign with President Barack Obama for the first time this year Wednesday in Nevada, cozying up to the White House leader as he promotes education and gives her image a boost in her close U.S. Senate race against Republican incumbent Dean Heller.
The president will start a two-day campaign tour in the battleground state today at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno. The next day, he will rally supporters at Canyon Springs High School in North Las Vegas as he and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney compete for who can best lead the nation.
Berkley, acting as Obama's cheerleader, said Monday that Romney and his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would leave America's poor and middle class behind if elected in November.
"President Obama's fighting for Nevada's middle class while Gov. Romney, in my opinion, would hang them out to dry," Berkley said in a teleconference with reporters arranged by the Obama campaign.
In the early stages of Berkley's campaign, the seven-term congresswoman representing Las Vegas appeared to keep her distance from Obama and his policies that she supported, including the health care law, which is unpopular among Republicans, especially in rural and Northern Nevada.
Over the summer, however, Berkley has become more outspoken in boosting Obama and Democratic policies, particularly after the House Ethics Committee in July opened a formal investigation focused on her advocacy of kidney transplant and dialysis matters that may have benefited her physician husband.
Berkley's fate in the Senate race is partly tied to whether Democrats turn out to support Obama on Nov. 6, boosting the prospects for her and other Democrats up and down the ticket. Appearing with the president on the trail gives her the stamp of approval from Obama, a popular and talented campaigner.
"She does need his coattails," said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with The Cook Political Report. "She needs the validation to say, 'I may be under investigation, but the president still shows up with me.' It sends a message."
Heller has campaigned with Romney only once, introducing him in May at a private fundraiser in Las Vegas with Donald Trump, the outspoken reality TV star and hotel-casino mogul. Last week, Heller was in Reno when Ryan made his vice presidential campaign debut in Las Vegas during his first week on the trial.
"He looks forward to campaigning with Gov. Romney and Rep. Ryan in the future," Heller's campaign spokeswoman Chandler Smith said Monday when asked whether Heller would join the GOP ticket on the trail.
Polls show the Senate race is a dead heat, although some surveys have had Heller a few points up since the ethics investigation was announced in July.
The House committee is looking at whether Berkley should have disclosed her husband's business relationship with a kidney transplant center at the University Medical Center that Berkley and Heller helped save. The panel also is reviewing a series of bills Berkley pushed and efforts she made to maintain Medicare reimbursement rates for dialysis treatment.
Ahead of Obama's visit, his campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt joined Berkley on a conference call to promote the president's plans for everything from education to tax policies. They contrasted Obama's plans with Romney proposals and Ryan's budget, which would trim spending and maintain tax breaks for the rich.
Berkley said 33,000 university and college students in Nevada could see their annual education costs rise by an average of $810 a year under a Romney-Ryan budget if Pell grants and other programs are cut. As well, the Head Start program for low-income preschool children could end in 2013 under Romney and Ryan, she warned.
LaBolt said Obama believes investing in education is investing in the nation's future, whereas Romney once told students they should "shop around" for cheaper tuition or get money from their parents.
"So whether you're a preschool student or a college student, it would have implications across the board," if the Romney-Ryan ticket won in November, LaBolt said. "We shouldn't be cutting back in those areas."
Previewing the president's message, the campaign said Obama would focus on the need to make college more affordable and would criticize Romney's "backward plan for education." Obama also planned to release a report showing "the toll the Romney-Ryan plan would take on the wallets of students and families" in Nevada.
"President Obama has a very different view - that helping all students get access to a good education in elementary school, high school and college is fundamental to creating an economy that is built to last, and built from the middle out, not the top down," campaign officials said. "He knows that investing in quality education for the workforce of the future is the only way to strengthen our global competitiveness and restore economic security for generations to come."
The Obama campaign said the president has spent his first four years in office giving states incentives "to transform their public schools, without additional onerous mandates like No Child Left Behind." He also has proposed bills to rehire teachers who have been laid off and to reform student loan programs, the campaign said.
Obama is scheduled to deliver remarks in Reno at 5 p.m. today, with U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in attendance. The president will spend the night in Henderson.
On Wednesday, he is set to speak at 9:40 a.m. at Canyon Springs High School before leaving for New York.
Berkley and LaBolt also slammed Romney on his and Ryan's plans to reform Medicare and for not putting forward a plan to solve the housing crisis. Romney last year said the market should be allowed to "hit bottom."
The Romney campaign responded by noting the economy in Nevada is the worst in the nation with the unemployment rate rising to 12 percent statewide and 12.9 percent in Las Vegas.
"President Obama's liberal, big-government policies have not only failed to solve our housing crisis, but they have also made it worse by hindering job creation and slowing the recovery - resulting in the highest unemployment rate of any state," said Mason Harrison, Romney's spokesman in Nevada. "Over the next four years, Americans deserve actual solutions and a new direction, not more of the same old broken promises. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have a plan for a stronger middle class that will jump-start the economy, increase take-home pay, and allow people to stay in their homes."
Romney has released few specifics about how he would accomplish his goals, however.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.