Heller holds on to Senate seat
November 7, 2012
LAS VEGAS – Republican Sen. Dean Heller is headed back to the U.S. Senate for a six-year term of his own, after fending off seven-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley in a bitterly fought campaign.
Berkley conceded the razor-thin race early Wednesday, calling the election “challenging” but recalling for supporters in a Las Vegas Strip casino ballroom that her grandparents arrived as immigrants in the U.S. with no money, no skills and unable to speak English. But they had a dream that their children and their children’s children would have a better life.
“While tonight didn’t turn out the way I would’ve hoped, the fact is I have led that dream,” Berkley said shortly after midnight. She added that she would “step down from public life and take a new direction.”
Heller planned to address reporters minutes later at another Strip casino.
The Heller-Berkley contest was a battle of contrasts, funded by some $17 million raised by the candidates and more than $20 million spent by outside interests.
Democrats held their narrow majority in the U.S. Senate, grabbing GOP seats in Massachusetts and Indiana, and turning aside Republican challenges in Virginia and Ohio. Republicans retained control of the House, ensuring that Congress will be divided at the start of President Barack Obama’s second term.
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Heller, 52, is a button-down Mormon. He represented a conservative, mostly rural district in the U.S. House until Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval picked him last year to replace U.S. Sen. John Ensign, who resigned after a scandal.
Berkley, 61, is a Jewish daughter of a former casino waiter who still has traces of a New York accent.
She accused Heller of wanting to subsidize oil companies, ship jobs overseas, privatize Social Security and put Medicare in the hands of private insurance companies.
Heller accused Berkley of corruption, saying she voted to support a Las Vegas hospital kidney program that benefited her husband’s medical practice and profited from the misery of displaced southern Nevada residents by buying and selling foreclosed homes for profit.
The two candidates disagreed on immigration, the economy and congressional budgets.
Berkley backed an overhaul of Wall Street oversight after the 2008 financial crisis, while Heller opposed it.
Heller rejected an increase in the minimum wage in 2007, while Berkley supported it.
Heller opposes – and Berkley supports – the so-called Dream Act, which would allow young people brought to the U.S. without authorization to avoid deportation if they graduate high school or join the military.
With about 1.2 million registered voters statewide, Democrats had an edge over Republicans of about 90,000 voters.
But Nevada’s 11.8 percent unemployment rate has been the highest in the nation since May 2010, and independents comprise about 17 percent of the electorate.
Officials reported that voters in both parties were casting early ballots in numbers greater than in 2008, when Obama carried the state by 12 percent.