After breezing to overwhelming primary victories Tuesday, Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and Democratic U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley will face off Nov. 6 in one of the hottest and highest-profile Senate races in the country that could determine control of the upper house.
The contest pits two of Nevada’s more popular politicians against one another in what promises to be a close race with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., using his Democratic Party machine and fundraising prowess to help his protégée Berkley.
"Yes, I have two opponents, Senator Reid and Shelley Berkley," Heller said in an interview from Washington, D.C., where the Senate was in session.
"But my attention is going to be on running against Shelley Berkley. They’re going to vote for me based on my ideas," he said of Nevadans.
In Nevada, Berkley campaigned in Reno on Tuesday morning, visiting small businesses in Washoe County in Northern Nevada where she is not as well-known as she is in Southern Nevada. Berkley has served in Congress for seven terms, representing urban Las Vegas in populous Clark County.
Tuesday night, Berkley celebrated with supporters and top Democratic politicians and candidates in a joint office the party opened in Henderson. Berkley, with her father seated in front of her, talked about how he supported her and her family as a waiter in Las Vegas.
"The kids you see here, they need the same opportunities I had when we moved here," Berkley said, calling November’s election "the most significant one of my generation."
Berkley handily beat four Democratic opponents, including Steve Brown, Barry Elsworth, Louis Macias, and Nancy Price. Incoming returns showed Berkley with nearly 80 percent of the vote.
Heller skated past four Republican challengers, including Sherry Brooks, Richard Charles, Eddie Hamilton and Carlo Poliak. Incoming returns showed Heller with 86 percent of the vote.
David VanderBeek of the Independent American Party also will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Berkley and Heller will give voters a clear choice. The two represent different philosophies on the role of government as their political parties battle over the direction of the country.
Last weekend, at the Nevada Democratic Convention in Las Vegas, Berkley said she would fight to protect the middle class and seniors instead of siding with the rich and big oil companies. She also promised to do more to help Hispanics, a key voting bloc in Nevada that Democrats dominate.
She attacked Heller as someone who supports privatizing Social Security and ending Medicare as well as rolling back women’s rights and slashing investment to develop clean energy jobs.
"I know who I’m siding with," Berkley told the Democrats. "I’m siding with you, Nevada."
Heller scoffed at Berkley’s attacks and said he, too, supports clean energy tax credits and other measures to develop the industry in Nevada. He also noted that Democratic policies Berkley has supported – from the near $1 trillion stimulus to industry bailouts and President Barack Obama’s health care law – have not reduced high unemployment as promised or led to faster job creation.
Nevada still has the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 11.7 percent.
"I think it’s pretty clear that the Democratic Party has run out of ideas," Heller said. "The people she says she’s fighting for the most are the ones who have been hurt the most by her policies – the middle class, students, Hispanics, women. Her only idea is to grow government."
On Capitol Hill, the two candidates have engaged in thrust and parry on a range of issues.
Last week Berkley joined other Democratic women to speak outside the Senate chamber in favor of a Democratic bill intended to make it easier for women to sue companies that discriminate on pay.
Heller voted against the bill as most Republicans did. Before Heller rejected the measure, he introduced his own version. He advertised it as a more reasonable approach even as it was dismissed as "a hollowed out shell" by equity advocates.
Stephens Media Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault and Review-Journal reporter Brian Haynes contributed to this story. Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.2012 PRIMARY ELECTION
• Nevada primary voting results
• More election news