Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Republican strategists acknowledged this week that incumbent state Sens. Joe Heck and Bob Beers are in danger of losing in the November election. If just one loses, Democrats would take control of the state Senate.
Aggressive campaigns by the Democratic Party on behalf of challengers in the race have the conservative lawmakers scrambling, with the Republican caucus clearing calendars to help Heck and Beers survive.
Robert Uithoven, who’s running both reelection campaigns, said the tough mail pieces from the Democrats are having an effect. But he said the mailers also have “lit a fire under Republicans who weren’t engaged,” referring to donors and officeholders.
A veteran Republican strategist said internal polling shows both races are extremely tight. “We’re at the point where you’ve got to fight back and fight back now,” said the operative, who spoke on the condition he would not be identified.
Early voting begins in a bit more than three weeks.
Beers is known as the state’s leading anti-tax libertarian. Democratic Party ads attack him for taking a 2006 campaign contribution from a purveyor of adult entertainment. Beers said the contribution came in the mail, and that he didn’t know the donor. “I don’t hang out with him,” he said.
The mailers also challenge Beers on a controversial e-mail he sent to a Nevadan in which he said children of gaming employees are “prone to dropping out of school (and) reproducing illegitimate children.” (He apologized for the comments and said they were directed at Nevadans who don’t care about education, not gaming employees.)
Democratic Party ads portray Heck, a physician, as not caring about women’s health. The ads incorrectly reported that he voted against requiring insurance companies to cover cervical cancer screenings. But Heck did vote against requiring insurance companies to cover a vaccine for the human papillomavirus, a precursor to cervical cancer.
Critics accuse Heck of consistently siding with insurance companies over consumers, as with the HPV vaccine.
The Republican strategist said the party will respond in the coming days with mail pieces hitting back hard against the Democrats. “People out there who think there’s not going to be an aggressive counterattack are mistaken,” he said.
The effort will likely come from what are known in politics as “independent expenditure” groups, as the Heck and Beers campaigns try to conserve dwindling resources.
The two veteran legislators are in tough fights despite the low-profile campaigns being waged by their challengers. Shirley Breeden, a retired School District administrator, is taking on Heck. Beers’ opponent is Allison Copening, a former marketing executive.
Both candidates have remained in the background as the state party has waged the mailer attacks independent of their campaigns.
State Sen. Warren Hardy, a fellow Republican, is raising money for a grass-roots operation to be run by veteran political operative Billy Rogers.
Hardy said both districts’ registration numbers are a concern, as is the Democrats’ momentum both nationally and statewide. But he also said the ads are “over the top” and won’t succeed.
The question of who’s really behind the Democratic mailers came up this week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, called Heck recently and distanced himself from the ads, as Sun columnist Jon Ralston first reported. Reid’s allies control the state party. Heck is seen as a potential candidate for Senate or governor in 2010, which could pit him against Reid or his son, Rory Reid, the chairman of the Clark County Commission.
Pete Ernaut, a longtime Republican consultant not involved in the races, said it’s not surprising that the races would draw so much heat, given control of the state Senate is at stake.
Ernaut expressed confidence in Heck and Beers, but said it would be a tough go in a tough year for Republicans: “This is gonna be a nasty knuckle-punch fight to the end.”