Jon Ralston:

Intensity already at high level in Senate race

Fri, Jul 13, 2012 (2 a.m.)

Nary a moment’s letup in the Nevada Senate race this week since the Monday mid-afternoon disclosure that the House Ethics Committee had formed a special panel to look into allegations against Rep. Shelley Berkley — so here’s your Friday Flash of events as the trajectory was all too predictable:

Day 1, the bomb drops: The news came as no surprise to Team Berkley, as it had been notified earlier and was prepared with a news release that hilariously began with the words, “We are pleased with the committee’s decision to conduct a full and fair investigation ...”

But if Berkley’s release was risible, the outpouring of nonsense from the alphabet soup of D.C. groups was even more ludicrous, either rubbing salt in the wound or pretending it is only a flesh wound. The Republican National Committee (RNC) sought to tie Berkley to President Barack Obama by sending out a video of praiseworthy comments from the commander-in-chief. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) issued a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil release. And the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) made Berkley sound like the second coming of Beelzebub.

Meanwhile, in Hellerland, muzzles were the sartorial choice of the day. But only that day ...

Day 2, the national media entombs her: I am sure members of Team Berkley shuddered at the coverage or shuttered their computers the day after — it was not pretty. Almost no one who wrote about the probe didn’t describe it as potentially fatal to Berkley’s candidacy, with her damage control efforts focusing on her efforts to save the transplant center in her district with help from the rest of the delegation. (Not mentioned: Her husband has the contract. Oh, and those letters she wrote to important insiders without disclosure. Well, never mind.) And the Sun’s Karoun Demirjian captured the quote of the story so far from Berkley: “I didn’t think anybody didn’t know that my husband was a kidney specialist. If I had to do it over again, I would be shouting from the rafters that Dr. Larry is a kidney specialist.” (Later in the week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would say “everyone” in Southern Nevada knows that. Everyone!)

Day 3, the NRSC stunt: In a beautifully executed attempt to breathe oxygen into the story, the NRSC sent a letter Wednesday to Secretary of State Ross Miller, ostensibly asking if their legal research was correct that Berkley could not get her name off the ballot even if she withdrew. The NRSC folks knew they were right — the law is pretty clear. But in sending the letter and ensuring it became public, the GOP group ensured the meme kept going and raised the possibility of Berkley’s exit from the race. I actually think there were some Democrats who wondered whether this wasn’t fatal and mulled the possibility of Berkley’s departure. But it can’t happen, and all you had to read this week was Reid, once privately tepid on her candidacy, give his full-throated endorsement as the DSCC made it clear it was still on board by leaking that it had reserved $2.3 million in air time. They will need every penny because Team Heller also unhooked the muzzles and put up an ad, produced before the decision but ready to go either way, raising questions about Berkley’s ethics.

Day 4, the mud goes in the water: The action ramped up Thursday as the Sun’s Anjeanette Damon broke the story of two new ads by Berkley — one to change the subject to Medicare and another to rebut the ethics charge by outrageously claiming Heller was accusing her of “trying to stop cuts to Medicare,” a reference to her advocacy for higher reimbursement rates for doctors like you-know-who. (Yes, there are good access-to-health care arguments for doing so, but disclosure is at least her problem here.) This is going to be the way of the world here now until November, with Berkley harping on Medicare, Medicare, Medicare (I call it the Eve Plumb defense) and Heller harping on her ethics troubles whenever he gets the chance. So who do you vote for: the one who might be corrupt or the one who wants to steal seniors’ health care? (Not sure Dean Heller would like the answer to that one.)

By day’s end, both candidates had reported their second-quarter totals — they both raised seven figures in the last quarter, but Berkley spent more so has about a half-million less on hand ($4.5 million to $4 million). And then Heller issued a debate challenge, outlining six Nevada sit-downs and one on “Meet the Press,” which Team Berkley called one of Heller’s “political stunts.”

But why not just agree? If Berkley is so much smarter than Heller and if she is so much better on the issues — and I guarantee her campaign believes both of those — why not debate him anytime, anywhere? I wonder.

Can’t wait to see what happens today ...

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