Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The campaign for control of the Nevada Senate is quite simple: It all comes down to Beers and Heck.
That would be Bob Beers and Joe Heck, two endangered Republican incumbents whose fates will determine whether the G.O.P. can maintain their 11-10 majority. Only ten Nevada Senate seats are up this year and only these two are competitive.
And Beers and Heck have a lot in common. Both hail from Clark County, where close to 70% of Nevadans live. Both are freshman. Heck serves Senate District 5, in Henderson, while Beers represents Senate District 6, which consists of a portion of Las Vegas.
Both districts previously had a Republican lean, but Democrats have gained ever-so-slight edges in party registration in recent months. Democrats also could benefit from the unpopularity of Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons and Nevada's economic troubles.
Heck, a doctor and navy reservist, recently returned from a stint in Iraq. He's squaring off with Shirley Breeden, a long-time administrator in the Clark County school system. Heck and Breeden will have a lot of ground to cover: District 5 is one of two Senate districts in the state with twice the population of a normal district -- it's represented by two senators. In 2006, a Democrat knocked off a Republican incumbent for the other District 5 seat.
Beers is one of Nevada's best-known fiscal conservatives. He ran for governor in 2006, but lost in the Republican primary. Both Beers and Heck are possible future gubernatorial candidates, if they win this year. Beers' opponent will be Allison Copening, a PR executive and cancer survivor.
Republicans have criticized the two Democratic challengers for speaking in generalities. The Democrats "are more or less going on 'change,' " says Sue Lowden, who chairs the Nevada Republican Party. "It's hard to fight back when someone hasn't had a record that you can look at and analyze."
One big unknown is what effect the presidential race will have on the Senate campaigns. In 2004, Nevada was the state that came closest to mirroring the national popular vote -- Bush won by 2.59% in Nevada and 2.46% nationally. Not surprisingly, the campaigns of both Barack Obama and John McCain view Nevada as a swing state.
Democrats says that the Obama campaign is a big reason for their newfound registration advantages in District 5 and District 6. "We have benefited by having the presidential race here in Nevada," says Steven Horsford, the Democratic leader in the Senate, "and the fact that Nevada is so close."
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