Shelley Berkley’s campaign is working overtime to paint Dean Heller as a K Street puppet who is anti-consumer in the wake of President Obama’s recess appointment of Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Will it work?
Unless he goes on the offensive, it just might.
It’s very early in their battle for the U.S. Senate seat Heller was appointed to in the wake of the scandal and resignation of John Ensign, but in my view this is precisely the kind of imagery the incumbent Republican can’t afford to let stick. The last thing anyone from the party of business needs is to look like a hand servant of American fat cat culture.
At a time of high unemployment, an ongoing mortgage crisis, and animosity toward big banking, Wall Street and other white-collar special interest, Nevada politicians don’t want to be seen as out of touch with the struggling people of the state. And the struggling are legion.
Of course, the image making cuts both ways.
The stories of Berkley’s husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, and his advantageous hospital contract and house-flipping foray chipped away Berkley’s image as a working-class Vegas girl at heart. She still has some damage control to do as those stories eventually morph into sepia-toned TV ads.
Without it, frankly, I don’t know where Heller would be in the polls, which now show the candidates in essentially a dead heat. Heller has yet to show that he truly appreciates the fact his race will be won or lost in Southern Nevada, not in the staunchly conservative cow counties where his face is familiar.
While dust from Obama’s recess appointment of Cordray is still settling, Democrat Berkley has seized the moment. Berkley accuses former Rep. Heller of voting against Wall Street and credit card reform bills as well helping to block Cordray’s appointment.
Heller spokesman Stewart Bybee responds, “First of all, Shelley Berkley supported the Wall Street bailout. More importantly, she was against it before she was for it. For her to ignore that fact and to use that phrase in her press release is trying to rewrite history. The senator has always said he supports reasonable regulation.”
“Reasonable regulation” doesn’t include moving to appoint Cordray in a timely manner. (The art of delay is a game both parties play.) Instead, Republicans attempted to portray Cordray and the newly created commission as having too much power. In other words, they claimed they feared the regulators couldn’t be sufficiently regulated. Yeah, that’s what’s wrong with America: too much regulation on the Wall Street crowd.
The challenge for Cordray’s critics is two-fold: First, many Republicans agreed that he was qualified for the position; and second, it’s courting political disaster in these troubled times to stand up against anything called the “Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.”
Which leads us to another question: Can it be shown that Heller, while claiming to be the taxpayer’s watchdog, has been courting campaign donations from the very people who have helped put out country in this mess?
Joining fellow Republicans in blocking the Cordray nomination wasn’t unique, but when he agreed to a fundraiser hosted by Wall Street lobbyists shortly thereafter, he handed his opponent a gift and raised the issue of whether he’s politically tone deaf on this matter.
As Brian Dreese of the National Economic Council noted, “These institutions affect the daily livelihood of tens of millions of Americans. Without a director to the agency, you don’t have a cop on the beat looking at these institutions and taking steps on behalf of consumers."
Then Politico shellacked Nevada’s appointed Senator for his incredibly timely fundraiser under the headline, “Veteran K Streeters Pony Up for Heller.” The article noted that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and National Republican Senate Caucus Chairman John Cornyn of Texas were “going to bat” for Heller. Among Heller’s K Street co-hosts, reported Politico: Doyce Boesch, Rob Chamber of McBee Strategic Consulting, Bruce Gates of Altria, Steve Hart of Williams & Jensen, Richard Hunt of the Consumer Bankers Association, Dan Meyer of Duberstein Group, and Jeff MacKinnon of Ryan, MacKinnon, Vasapoli and Berzok among many.
But forget that, Bybee seems to be saying. What about Berkley and her Wall Street bailout vote?
“The bottom line is this, she voted for the wall street bailout. She voted to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer funds that have not been fully paid back yet,” he said.
Putting Heller on the defensive on this issue is smart money that could pay dividends as Berkley’s camp works to define her opponent before he gets a chance to return the favor.