(Joseph Tatner) – The conventional wisdom is that Congresswoman Shelley Berkley is unbeatable. She’s in a “safe district” where Democrats outnumber Republicans 52% to 28%. This apparent slam dunk prompted Las Vegas Sun reporter and Face to Face host Jon Ralston to remark that Democrats would control Congressional District 1 for the next 95 years.
Genuine analysis, however, is not made based on a single statistic, regardless of how impressive. Simply scratch the surface and you find a much different picture. Elections are not about statistics, they are about people: the people who run, the people who promote them, and the people who vote. Once upon a time, political pundit Chuck Muth wrote he wouldn’t give a dime to anyone who ran against Ms. Berkley. When I challenged his assumptions, he asked me if I had done my research on Shelley Berkley. I did and I was shocked at what I found.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have advanced studies in National Security, which is a Political Science degree, so I am a qualified analyst (my thesis was in Antiterrorism). I worked as a Legislative Analyst in Washington, DC and as a Communications Strategist. I also am running for Congress against Shelley Berkley this year, so although I am certainly biased, my analysis is not. These are the facts, for those enquiring minds who want to know.
It turns out that Shelley is considered “unbeatable” for only one reason: she hasn’t been beaten. But the only reason she’s never been beaten is that the Republican Party has never even tried! Every prior Republican CD1 candidate I spoke with complained they had no support from the GOP, which shoveled $3M at incumbent Jon Porter in 2008. Dina Titus beat him with $2M. Clearly, the candidate matters far more than money or perceived percentages.
In the last election, Obama campaign workers flooded our state from California and Republican challenger Ken Wegner effectively dropped out of the race after a car accident. Yet even running unopposed, Berkley won with only 68% of the vote – the exact same percentage as the prior election (Wegner’s votes dropped from 31% to 28%, both being the lowest showing by any Republican challenger against Shelley). That means there is a minimum 32% Anti-Berkley vote, which is a very positive base for a complete unknown to start with and build upon.
Three critical issues are routinely overlooked by the fatalists: the Independents, the candidates, and the percentages. They fail to recognize that many of the Independents are former Republicans who tore up their voter registration cards (literally) when President Bush pushed the Amnesty Bill. This was the last straw for conservatives whose hearts remain with the GOP but are disgusted by wishy-washy leadership that had no message and abandoned party principles. Thanks to the “maverick” (read: Moderate) John McCain, 30% of Republicans sat out the last election – more than enough to have changed the face of politics if they had genuine conservative candidates they could believe in.
Indeed, other Republican challengers fared much better against Berkley, starting with Judge Don Chairez way back in 1998. With a promise from Steve Wynn and GOP leadership to back him 100%, the Party abandoned him as soon as he filed his candidacy. Don had only $336,000 and Berkley outspent him with 2 MILLION, yet she barely beat him with 49% of the vote (Don received 46%). Jon Porter used his own money to face Shelley with $1.3M, but she spent another $2M and won with 52% of the vote (Jon received 44%). Lynette Boggs McDonald was another underdog with strong Grass Roots support who appeared poised to unseat Berkley, until a scandal broke that was orchestrated by operatives of her own party! Two alleged felonies were dropped after the race.
Things went downhill from there. Russ Mickelson tied Ken Wegner’s 31% of the vote with only $17K. Ken spent $96K in the next election (with $80k of his own money) and Berkley’s percentage actually rose from 66% to 68%. Ken spent $15k in the last election. Against Berkley’s standard $2 million, that’s like trying to knock down a brick wall with a pea shooter. And people wonder why she wins? The Republicans have never matched Shelley dollar for dollar, even when they had solid candidates with popular support.
This is a game-changing year. There are no Obama coattails to ride on and no enthusiastic Obama machine. A large number of Democrats have left the district due to the devastated economy and housing crisis – both of which happened on Berkley’s watch. The remaining Democrats that haven’t already switched over to the Republican Party are more likely to stay home this year while TEA Parties have Republicans and Independents fired up. Shelley voted for the bailouts and health care debacle and the same slick answers don’t cut it with voters anymore. A solid conservative candidate who can capture the public’s imagination has a great chance to turn the tide amidst the current “throw all the bums out” fever.
There’s one more factor that has never come into play before now. The Catholic Vote. While Democrats make up 52% of the district, Catholics make up 47%. Since 80% of Catholics are traditionally Democrats (ever since John Kennedy), a shift to the Right by Catholics could prove devastating to the Democrat Party – and to Berkley. Catholics have been repeatedly offended by Obama’s attacks that were launched almost as soon as he was elected.
In an unprecedented move, churches passed out cards to parishioners to send to Congress protesting the euphemistically-named Freedom of Choice Act. FOCA would remove any choice from doctors or Catholic Hospitals, forcing them to provide abortions or shut down. The same liberals who praised “conscientious objectors” during Viet Nam want to outlaw people who prefer not abort babies in the womb. As a Pro-life conservative Catholic, if someone like me received only 25% of the Catholic vote, that would steal 20% of the Democrats away from Shelley Berkley, more than 10% of the vote. Given the current political atmosphere, it seems clear that the Republican minimum vote will be close to the mid-40’s as it has in the past. Catholics can easily put a Republican challenger over the top in a year when Republicans are on fire and Democrats are demoralized. Traditional Catholic family values are more closely aligned with the GOP than with the Democrat party of today.
What all the pointy heads have missed is that politics is people! It’s not just about how much money a candidate has or the percentage of one party in a given district. Although these are important factors, the American people don’t vote according to charts or graphs that are used to analyze them. They vote from the heart.
A solid group of conservative candidates populates nearly every race in the Las Vegas area this year. The Clark County Republican Party (CCRP) has been flooded with conservative members and the leadership was recently taken over by TEA Party patriots. When State Party chairman Chris Comfort played the same old games in the CD1 race to protect Berkley, trying to get the two frontrunners (including me) to drop out and promising three other candidates his support if they switched into the race at the last minute (presumably so neither of the three would find out he made the same promises to others), he was forced to resign in disgrace and no one has seen or heard from him since. The same tactic was used agains Lou Toomin in his Assembly race last election, and Toomin has switched parties in disgust to run as a Democrat this year.
It is critical for Republicans that Berkley is beaten this year. Nothing in politics is certain, but Harry Reid and Dina Titus are clearly in a nose dive. If Shelley Berkley is the only Democrat left standing in this state, as an undefeated Congresswoman with her full fundraising capability intact, she will no doubt take on the wounded Senator Ensign in 2012 – and every Democrat dollar will flow into her coffers from all over the United States. It’s called “payback.” She will have enough money in 2012 to make Harry Reid look like a pauper. So the only way to stop Senator Berkley in 2012 is to vote Republican in 2010.
(Mr. Tatner is a Republican candidate for Nevada’s First Congressional District)