Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

The Other Race in Nevada

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With all eyes on Nevada as a battleground state for this year’s Presidential Election many are forgetting to follow a second crucial political contest currently happening in the state. This race is the United States Senate Election between Republican Dean Heller and Democrat Shelley Berkley. Just like the Presidential Election in the state, this has been a close race filled with ups and downs and changing polls daily. Below is a list of the top 12 facts you need to know about this year’s Nevada senate race.

The Top 12 Things You Need to Know About the Nevada Senate Race:

  1. Republican Dean Heller is the incumbent US Senator to Nevada. However, he did not win this seat through a traditional voting process. Former Republican Senator John Ensign resigned from this position amid an investigation of an ethics violation in May 2011.
  2. Heller is a Mormon, who before being appointed to the U.S. senate position, was in his third term in the House representing a conservative, mostly rural district in northern Nevada.
  3. Democrat Shelly Berkley won by a landslide majority in the Democratic primary in the state by 79.5 percent of the vote. She is currently the U.S. Representative to Nevada’s first congressional district. This district makes up one of Nevada’s most populated and politically courted areas, Las Vegas, parts of North Vegas and parts of Clark County. She has been serving the House since 1999.
  4. Berkley is currently under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for her role in protecting a troubled kidney center in which her husband, a physician, had a financial stake.
  5. The most recent RealClearPolitics Poll puts Heller up by 3.5 percent, leading Berkley 47 to 43.5 percent.
  6. The race has been negative, characterized by vicious attack ads on both sides. Republicans greatest attack is that Berkley has flipped foreclosed homes for profit and used her position in Congress to enrich her husband. Heller has called Berkley the “most corrupt person he has ever met.” Democrats are attacking Heller by stating that he wants taxpayers to subsidize oil companies, ship jobs overseas and strip healthcare coverage for the elderly.
  7. The Berkley Campaign contends that Heller does not support The Dream Act. The Dream Act, which allows young people brought to the U.S. without authorization to avoid deportation if they graduate from high school or join the military, is an extremely important issue in Nevada where immigration reform is a top concern for the large Hispanic population.
  8. The 90,000 Democratic voter registration advantage statewide will likely not benefit Berkley as much as Democrats may hope. Despite this advantage, Berkley has been lagging behind the President in most polling.
  9. While Berkley has lagged Obama in most polls, Heller has hovered just above Romney, including with Hispanics.
  10.  Republicans are heavily courting Latinos in the state, despite many believing their vote     is already a safe bet for Democrats, at least in the Presidential race. Republicans argue that Latinos share the same worries as other Nevadans in their struggling economy, which has the nation’s highest unemployment rate, and will side with them on pocketbook issues. Strategists believe Heller’s early ads on Spanish-language television have helped him maintain a stronger position (lower deficit) among Latinos than Romney. One ad includes Heller’s wife, Lynne, speaking in halting Spanish; another shows Heller strolling alongside the state’s popular Latino governor, Republican Brian Sandoval.
  11. Berkley has the support of Nevada’s strongest politician, Harry Reid, and his political machine.
  12. There is frequent ticket-splitting in the state. In 2010 Reid was re-elected in the same year Nevadans picked Republican Governor Sandoval and Heller carried swing-voting Washoe County in 2008, the same year Obama buried McCain.


This is a crucial race to keep a close eye on, as its outcome will have a large impact on which party takes control of the Senate. If Obama wins reelection, Republicans must gain four seats to take the majority, or three if Romney prevails. Keep checking Destination 270 for the most recent updates on this race.


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