Thursday, April 28, 2011 | 12:42 p.m.
Rep. Shelley Berkley's first campaign appearance in the race for U.S. Senate provided an early look at the talking points she'll push heading into the 2012 election.
Berkley, along with several speakers invited by her campaign, stressed repeatedly that Heller is out of touch with Nevadans, favors rich executives over the middle class and promotes a job-killing agenda.
"I don't think that my opponent has his priorities straight," Berkley said Thursday during the news conference at UNLV.
Berkley visited her alma mater to promote the clean energy technologies students there are developing. But the event was more about the upcoming election than green energy.
"The choice for 2012 could not be more clear," Berkley said.
Berkley, a Democrat, criticized Heller, a Republican, for two recent votes. She wanted to highlight the differences in their records.
Heller voted to end Department of Energy loan guarantees for clean energy projects and voted in favor of tax breaks for big oil companies. Berkley supported the loan guarantees and opposed the incentives.
Without loan guarantees, renewable energy projects such as a solar-thermal plant being built in Tonopah would be shuttered, Berkley said. The Tonopah project will create 600 jobs.
Berkley said Heller instead sided with oil companies to approve lucrative tax breaks and incentives for the industry.
"Do big oil companies need more tax subsidies?" Berkley asked. "I don't think so. What we need to be doing is putting our resources into creating a whole economy based on green jobs."
Heller's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Four speakers, all in renewable energy fields, echoed Berkley in saying Heller's votes would leave them unemployed or kill projects they are developing.
"Dean Heller chose who he stands with. He doesn't stand with middle-class Nevadans," electrician Mark Williams said.
"Clean energy is not so much about the environment but (about) property owners saving money and creating jobs," energy efficiency contractor Chris Cadwell added.
As for the politics of the race, Berkley said Gov. Brian Sandoval's decision to appoint Heller to fill the vacancy left by Sen. John Ensign's resignation is not a game changer. She downplayed any incumbency advantage Heller might receive.
"Nothing has changed for me," she said. "It doesn't matter what title my opponent has, he's still the same person with the same voting record."
Berkley questioned Sandoval's choice to spend "up to $1 million" on a special election in the 2nd Congressional District (particularly when schools and social services are facing cuts) but admitted she couldn't say that she wouldn't accept a similar appointment if the tables were turned and it had been offered to her.
Berkley will continue her campaign tour Friday. She is scheduled to make a similar presentation in Reno.