President Barack Obama landed in Reno, Nev., last Friday, just 12 hours after leaving a glitzy fundraiser hosted by actor George Clooney in Los Angeles.
Reno is less glamorous than its larger, Southern California neighbor. But the population heart of Northern Nevada’s Washoe County is the center of gravity in the Democrats’ fight for the Silver State. The state’s six electoral votes could determine who wins the White House, while the Senate race between appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R) and Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) could tip the balance of power on Capitol Hill.
“Battlegroundsville” is how Nevada Assemblyman Pat Hickey, a Reno Republican, described Washoe County.
“Washoe has become the swing county in a key swing state,” Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston wrote Sunday. “And because of its strange, occasionally mercurial demographic mix, it is a tough nut to crack for major party candidates, no matter their affiliation.”
On his Reno campaign swing, Obama visited the home of a couple helped by a federal mortgage refinancing program. This stop came on the heels of Berkley deciding to air the first two television ads of her Senate campaign in Northern Nevada. Berkley has spent about $160,000 on Reno airtime during the first three weeks of May. The ads focus on her work on veterans issues, which often appeal to voters across party lines.
Berkley is well-known in Las Vegas, which she has represented in the House for seven terms. But Washoe County voters live almost 500 miles away and are unfamiliar with her. Democrats concede that Berkley chose the Northern Nevada market to launch her advertising because she must make inroads there to unseat Heller, who is based in Carson City, adjacent to Washoe County.
“While she is no stranger to Reno or Washoe County, they may not be as familiar with her legislative work,” said Zac Petkanas, a senior communications adviser at the state Democratic Party. “Which is why it’s not only that she’s going up in Reno, but it’s about some significant accomplishments that she’s had on an issue that she has championed: veterans issues.”