Republicans fight to hold on in Nevada's 1st C.D.
Competition in Pennsylvania's 10th C.D.
By Stuart Rothenberg
Nevada 1 Once Cong. John Ensign (R) announced his intentions to challenge Democratic Sen. Harry Reid this year, Democrats were thrilled with their chances of picking up Nevada's open 1st C.D.
Early on, the party united behind the candidacy of Shelley Berkley, 47, a former casino executive and a member of the University of Nevada's Board of Regents.
A native of New York City whose family relocated to Las Vegas when she was a child, Berkley got involved in Democratic politics here at an early age. After law school she was appointed deputy director of the state Commerce Department by the governor. She later worked in the corporate community, and won a state House seat in 1982. By 1989, she was working in government affairs for the Sands Hotel. After rising to vice president, she left to become a telecommunications consultant.
Berkley had to wait months for a Republican challenger. The nine-way GOP primary in September chose former county district judge and former Democrat, Don Chairez, who won with 42 percent of the vote.
Chairez, 42, is a Missouri native who grew up in various locales as an Army brat. He earned a law degree at Southern California School of Law in 1980. Then in 1990 he became deputy district attorney of Clark County. Chairez was appointed by the governor to a vacant district court judgeship in 1994. He garnered publicity with several high-profile cases, including one against a local pornographer and a case pitting a state agency against a small businessman over a property issue. Chairez ruled for the businessman.
But the action started here well in advance of the primary. Back in June the Las Vegas Review Journal reported on a 1996 incident in which Berkley, then working for the Sands Hotel, advised her boss to give a job to the uncle of a Clark County commissioner in order to win the official's support for a new hotel project. She also urged that another commissioner be given a daiquiri concession and told the hotel chairman to give campaign contributions to friendly local judges.
Berkley said that this was "the way business is conducted in Las Vegas" and that she was giving her boss the best advice "under the circumstances" but that she did "not agree with or condone the advice."
The National Republican Congressional Committee seized on the opportunity and targeted the district for the first of its "Operation Breakout" issue advocacy campaigns. At least two television spots have run here so far, both questioning Berkley's ethics and carrying the tag line, "The truth is important."
But GOP spirits were dampened somewhat with the revelation that Chairez is the focus of a long-pending sexual discrimination case in his office filed by a former worker. Opponents are also attacking some of his high-profile judicial decisions.
Berkley still appears to maintain her edge. An August 24-26 Mason-Dixon/PMR poll had her leading Chairez 43-36 percent. This race is still uphill for the GOP, though the hill looks a little bit smaller than in did nine months ago.
Competition for a change in Pennsylvania's 10th C.D.
Pennsylvania 10 With the retirement of veteran Republican Cong. Joe McDade, the people of his 10th District are experiencing a political novelty this year -- the first competitive congressional race here in more than 30 years.
Attorney Pat Casey, 32, son of the popular former Democratic governor Bob Casey, was the consensus nominee here long before the spring primary. Casey, who garnered some campaign experience in his brother Bob's successful 1996 state auditor race, is a social conservative like his father -- strong pro-life on abortion and opposed to gun control.
Casey faces wealthy auto dealer Don Sherwood, 57, a member of the Tunkhannock school board who won the eight-way GOP primary in May with 42 percent of the vote.
A survey by Shrum, Devine & Donilon for Casey, August 13-19, showed the Democrat leading 51-41 percent, while a July Tarrance Group poll for Sherwood had him leading 45-42 percent.
The GOP is strong in nine of the 10 counties making up the 10th but Lackawanna County, home to Scranton, the district's largest city, is a Democratic stronghold. Casey must do very well in Lackawanna to win and Sherwood must cut into the Democrat's base there.
The post-Labor Day campaign kicked off with two television spots each from Casey and Sherwood. The Casey bio spot's tag line is, "The values we grew up with... Working for us. Casey in Congress," while a health care reform spot features Casey saying, "When you're sick they should check your pulse first, not your wallet."
Sherwood also had two spots, one that includes him and his wife at the kitchen table arguing for a more efficient federal government, and another that shows Sherwood in the classroom talking about cutting government waste and redirecting money into the classroom.
It's age versus youth, Republican versus Democrat. Tossup.
Tuesday, September 22, 1998
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