Heller hasn't entirely ridden Romney's coattails. Last week, he bluntly disavowed the nominee's secretly-recorded remarks about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes. Potential Republican voters, after all, are part of that 47 percent— and in Nevada, they probably are among the state's 12.1 percent unemployed.
"My mom was a school cafeteria cook, so I have a very different view of the world," Heller told reporters in the Capitol. "I do believe the federal government has certain responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is building bridges and roads, and national defense, but I also believe in a safety net for individuals who need the help, so that's why I would respectfully disagree with the comments that he made."
The contest is so tight that, earlier this month, the two campaigns were arguing whether a small Filipino Veterans Group that endorsed Heller actually existed. Both campaigns expect it to remain close. Berkley's supporters are banking on Democrats' edge in organizing and President Obama's persistent lead here to bring enough voters to the polls to let her move up.
Heller's backers expect some Obama voters in the pivotal swing county of Washoe, in the north of the state, to split their ticket and support the Republican senator.
In an interview, Berkley said she was confident voters would back her because she wants to protect Medicare and the middle class. She dismissed the ethics issue, noting that all of the state's congressional representatives, including Heller, joined her in trying to preserve the program.
"I know, when this investigation is over, that everyone is going to know that my only concern is for the safety of patients in Nevada," Berkley said.
Herzik said the competitiveness of the race is a testament to Berkley's skill at responding to the ethics charges. But, he added, it could also represent a troubling trend for Republicans nationally -- swing state voters soundly rejecting the congressional Republican agenda to which Berkley has tied Heller.
"If she wins," Herzik said, "it's a warning sign."
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