JStreetPAC put out a call to raise money for Catherine Cortez Masto’s U.S. Senate campaign and has bundled upward of $15,000.
The group is pro-Israel and favors the Nevada Democrat’s approach to national security. That includes her support of the Iran deal, which is intended to prevent that Middle East country from developing a nuclear weapon.
It’s an early signal that national security will be a big issue for both sides of the hotly contested race.
Cortez Masto supports the deal, and has said supporting it is the “best way” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and would block the nuclear program for at least 15 years. Nevada’s U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, a Republican candidate for the Senate seat, has called the deal uneforceable.
JStreetPAC put out the call for money in an email blast last week in response to an anti-Cortez Masto ad the National Republican Senatorial Committee has put out.
Heck and Cortez Masto are seeking their party’s nominations to run in the general election for the U.S. Senate. It’s an open race because U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is retiring and not seeking re-election.
“We’re playing in Nevada in a way we haven’t in the past,” said Ben Shnider, national political director for JStreetPAC. “We think this is a crucial race.”
JStreetPAC asked for donations to defend its endorsed Senate candidates who back the Iran deal: Cortez Masto in Nevada and Russ Feingold, also a Democrat, in Wisconsin.
The group has raised about $30,000, with upward of $15,000 in a bundled contribution going directly to Cortez Masto’s campaign.
Specifically, JStreetPAC advocates for a “diplomoacy first approach.” Shnider said candidates on the far right tend to “fear monger” and “saber rattle.”
The organization believes voters are weary of war as a foreign policy tool of “first resort.”
“They’re looking for alternatives to that world view,” he said.
The group’s reach is wide: In 2014, It gave more than $2.4 million to 95 candidates, including Senate races in New Hampshire, Georgia, Iowa and Colorado.
On the GOP side, the National Republican Senatorial Committee put out a clip blasting Cortez Masto for supporting the deal — complete with imagery of a mushroom cloud explosion — and urging viewers to tell her not to support the agreement. The group isn’t a direct arm of the campaign.
Heck, a brigadier general in the Army Reserve, has opposed the Iran deal, calling it an unenforceable agreement with a nation that sponsors terrorism.
“The basic message is that the president painted a binary choice: His deal or war,” Heck said in a statement Tuesday, referring to President Barack Obama. “This is a false choice. Sanctions, especially those put in place by Congress, were finally having the desired effect and should have continued until we had better leverage in negotiations with Iran. The president’s overall failure on foreign policy put us in a position of weakness in negotiations.”
Zach Hudson, communications director for the Nevada State Democratic Party, said Cortez Masto’s record as Nevada attorney general for eight years includes putting violent criminals behind bars and working with Homeland Security officials to protect the state.
Asked if the PAC might create its own ads as the race progresses, Shnider said: “Everything’s on the table in terms of tactics. Our folks are energized like never before.”
Disclosure: Sheldon Adelson’s family members are investors in a company that owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Adelson, a major GOP donor, has donated to a variety of Republican organizations and candidates, including prior congressional races of U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, and the NRSC.