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Political Eye: Berkley-Heller debate under negotiation

Save the date, it’s (tentatively) time to debate.

The Nevada Broadcasters Association is already planning an Oct. 18 debate between U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., two days before early voting starts ahead of the Nov. 6 election.

Now the group has to get the two Senate candidates to agree to show up.

The proposed hourlong debate would be televised at 6 p.m. from the Vegas PBS studio, airing on 50 TV and radio stations across Nevada and on C-SPAN, said Bob Fisher, president and CEO of the broadcasters group.

Fisher said he spoke to Berkley and Heller about the debate plans during the primary season. And now that the general election is under way, he’s sending out formal letters and setting up meetings to confirm all the details and pin down an agreement to face off in one of the hottest contests on the 2012 ballot.

"I go back 18 years with both Shelley and Dean, and they certainly trust and respect the integrity of the NBA to produce a fair and unbiased debate," Fisher said in an email.

The Berkley campaign confirmed it is considering the tentative debate.

"The campaign is in talks," said Xochitl Hinojosa, the communications director for Berkley’s campaign.

Heller said he’s ready and willing to debate Berkley, perhaps more than once, but plans aren’t yet set.

"I am not going to put a number on what I think is the right amount," Heller said. "But as we go out into these communities I am more than happy to sit down and have discussions between her and I and any moderator."

Two years ago, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and his Republican opponent Sharron Angle agreed to only one debate. It, too, was organized by the Nevada Broadcasters Association two days before early voting began.

The debate almost didn’t come off, however. At first, Fisher couldn’t get the two sides to agree on a date, so he was forced to cancel the debate. But then Reid suddenly agreed to hold the debate before early voting began as requested by the Angle camp, which wanted voters to see the faceoff before going to the polls.

In the end, most observers scored the debate as a win for Angle, who delivered a sharp performance against the soft-spoken Reid. Acting as the aggressor, Angle also delivered the most memorable line.

"Man up, Harry Reid," Angle said, taunting Reid before the cameras. "We have a problem with Social Security."

Reid had the last word, of course, beating Angle in the Nov. 2 election by nearly 6 percentage points.

– Laura Myers

OBAMA DANCES LATINO BUMP

President Barack Obama got a Latino bump – and we’re not talking a new dance move – after he announced he would let young immigrants without legal papers stay in the United States and get two-year work permits.

A group called Latino Decisions conducted a poll in five Hispanic-heavy battleground states between June 12 and 21 and found a burst of support among Latinos after his June 15 announcement. The states included Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Virginia. The survey questioned 2,000 registered voters – 400 in each state.

Obama’s approval ratings on immigration shot up from 45 percent to 61 percent after June 15. And he expanded his lead over Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney by 10 percentage points after June 15.

In Nevada, Obama enjoys 69 percent support from Latinos compared to 20 percent for Romney with 11 percent undecided, according to the survey. It had a margin of error per state of plus-or-minus 5 percentage points.

"The battleground polling data shows quite convincingly that the Obama … announcement created a Latino enthusiasm bump," said Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions and an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Washington. "The question now is whether that can be sustained until Election Day."

If Obama does manage to sustain his Hispanic lead through November, he’ll nearly match his performance in Nevada four years ago with Latinos and likely beat Romney in the state overall. In 2008, Obama won about three-quarters of the state’s Hispanics, smashing his foe, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The survey also asked a number of questions that shed light on Nevada’s Latino voters:

■ The most important issue Latino voters want the president and Congress to address is jobs/economy (a combined 57 percent), followed by immigration (52 percent), health care (10 percent) and education (5 percent.)

■ 74 percent have a family member, friend or co-worker who is undocumented.

■ 41 percent know someone who has faced detention or deportation.

■ 63 percent say Obama’s recent announcement protecting DREAMers (young immigrants) from deportation and allowing them to get work permits has made them more enthusiastic about voting for him in November.

■ 63 percent say Romney’s previous support for "self-deportation" – or returning to their home countries to seek legal immigration – makes them less enthusiastic about voting for him in November.

– Laura Myers

NO REGRETS FOR NUCLEAR CHAIRMAN

Gregory Jaczko now is out as chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after the Senate confirmed his successor Friday.

Jaczko served almost eight years at the federal agency, the last stormy three as chairman. Among other controversies, he came under fire in 2010 for directing NRC staff to wind down their evaluation of the Nevada nuclear waste site.

The action sparked a mutiny by other commissioners and provoked criticism from Yucca supporters in Congress. Jaczko was accused of injecting politics into the agency since he had previously been an adviser to chief Yucca foe Sen. Harry Reid, helping him battle the project that was unpopular in Nevada.

In one of his final interviews last week, Jaczko said he had no regrets on Yucca Mountain.

"I feel very comfortable with everything we’ve done with regard to Yucca Mountain," he said. "I think it was the right decision for us to stop our work on the program."

Jaczko essentially told NRC staff that Yucca money was running dry, a call that infuriated members of Congress angry that President Barack Obama was terminating the project before it could be determined whether the Nevada site was safe.

Jaczko said his decision "quite frankly has been vindicated by two appropriations bills from Congress that provided us with zero funding" for Yucca Mountain.

"That was all along the way Congress was going to go and I think it put us in the right position to address the issue and to be consistent with where Congress intended to go," Jaczko said.

Reid as Senate majority leader has strong influence over Yucca Mountain. With the Obama administration also opposed, the program was defunded over the past several budget cycles.

A federal appeals court is weighing a lawsuit by Washington state and South Carolina that seeks to force the NRC to revive its work on the Nevada repository. Critics charge the Jaczko-led NRC dragged its feet on Yucca until it may be too late to restart the review.

"I feel very comfortable that in the end, while a difficult decision, in the end it was the right decision for the agency," Jaczko said.

– Steve Tetreault

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow @STetreaultDC.

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