RENO (AP) — Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley accused each other of hurting the middle class and being in the pocket of big business in a feisty debate Thursday, the first of three scheduled in Nevada’s hotly contested U.S. Senate race.
Opening pleasantries were over quickly before the verbal jousting began over jobs, tax cuts, Medicare and character, as both candidates tried to convince voters they were the better choice to help the middle class, they would work harder and aid Nevada’s slow economic recovery.
“He talks a good game,” Berkley said of Heller, portraying him as a backer of the oil industry, Wall Street and big corporations over the interests of Nevadans.
Heller tried turned the tables, claiming, “Nobody has done more to hurt the middle class than my opponent,” and painted her as an outsider who has “raised more money out of New York City than the city of Reno.”
Heller said he bucked his own party and supported extending unemployment benefits, and said he believes government should provide a safety net for the downtrodden.
Heller, 52, was in the middle of his third term representing Nevada’s heavily Republican 2nd Congressional District when he was appointed in 2011 to the Senate by Gov. Brian Sandoval to replace John Ensign who resigned amid an ethics probe involving his affair with a staffer’s wife.
Berkley, 61, is a seven-term congresswoman from a predominantly Democratic district in Las Vegas.
While both are veteran politicians, their previous elections were in safe districts at opposite ends of the state. Now, both are trying to introduce themselves to unfamiliar electorates in a tight race that could determine whether Democrats retain control of the Senate.
Berkley has attacked Heller in her campaign ads for backing Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposals, trying to portray him as out of sync with the middle class. Heller has blasted Berkley on ethics and her votes for stimulus packages.
Those attacks continued Thursday.
“Look, my opponent voted not once, but twice for the Ryan budget that ends Medicare by turning it over the private insurers,” Berkley said. “The cost is going to skyrocket.”
Heller ads have hammered Berkley over a House Ethics Committee investigation into her votes supporting a kidney program at a Las Vegas hospital that benefited her husband’s medical practice. After largely leaving the issue to his campaign, last week he told reporters Berkley was “the most corrupt and unethical person I’ve ever met.”
Heller referenced the investigation several times during the debate, at one point saying “character matters.”
“My opponent’s motto seems to be ‘it’s not a lie if I can convince enough Nevadans to believe it,”’ he said.