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January 29, 2015

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Rep. Shelley Berkley ventures onto Sen. Dean Heller’s turf

Sun Coverage

Rep. Shelley Berkley came to Sen. Dean Heller’s home town of Carson City today as part of her “jobs tour,” highlighting contrasts with her presumptive Republican opponent and elbowing some space between her and President Barack Obama.

Berkley criticized the congressional debt “super committee” set up as part of the deal to raise the country’s debt limit. “I think Congress is abdicating its responsibilities,” she said.

Asked what she would do to reduce the deficit, she pointed to $70 billion in defense cuts identified by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, tax subsidies for oil companies and tax loopholes.

Berkley suggested that she would support higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans, but not at the $250,000 income level that President Barack Obama has suggested. “If it’s going to be a millionaire tax, make it a tax on millionaires,” she said at Comma Coffee, in downtown Carson City, where she shook hands with a few coffee drinkers but was otherwise not greeted by any supporters. She said the income level to be taxed at a higher rate would be negotiable.

She was also skeptical of Obama’s decision to release a jobs plan and then go on vacation to Martha’s Vineyrd. She said if he did go on vacation, he should have gone to somewhere on the Gulf of Mexico or Las Vegas, places that are struggling to recover.

But “in comparison to George Bush, he’s vacationing little,” she said.

She criticized Heller for votes against loan guarantees for renewable energy projects and accused him of voting to protect tax breaks for companies shipping jobs oversees. Twice he voted for a Republican plan to overhaul Medicare, once as a congressman and once as a senator. Heller was appointed to replace Sen. John Ensign by fellow Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Berkley, 60, is struggling to connect with Northern Nevada voters, according to a poll out today. The poll of 2nd Congressional District voters -- it was commissioned to gauge opinion on the September special congressional election between Mark Amodei and Kate Marshall -- also asked residents of the primarily Northern Nevada district about Berkley and Heller.

Berkley, according to the poll, is relatively unknown in the district: over half of respondents said they hadn’t developed an opinion of her. (Of those who did, only 18 percent liked her; 31 percent didn’t).

But Berkley said she's not worried about connecting with voters outside her Southern Nevada base. She said concerns of mothers in Las Vegas and Winnemucca and Austin are the same.

Berkley was unaware of an important development on an issue important to Hispanic voters, who could be key in this race. On Monday, in an interview in Reno, she was unaware of the Obama administration's policy change regarding deportations of illegal immigrants.

She supported the Dream Act, she said, and a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants, such as those who served in the military. On Tuesday, she called Obama's policy, which critics have called a circumvention of congress, "appropriate."

When asked if she supports the Southern Nevada Water Authority's planned pipeline from Eastern Nevada to Las Vegas, she said, "I do." She tempered that by saying her support "depends on the negative impact it could have."

Sun Washington correspondent Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.

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