Pro-Israel hawk Shelley Berkley throws hat in Senate ring

One of the most hawkish pro-Israel voices in the U.S. House has announced that she thinks it’s time for a promotion.

Rep. Shelley Berkley – who is Jewish – announced today that she will see the Democratic nomination to run for the seat being vacated by Sen. John Ensign, a Republican, who is retiring.

Berkley was once considered one of the most reliable supporters of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby giant in Washington; before her election in 1998 she was active with the organization. But in recent years she has seemed a little more aligned with the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), which is to the right of AIPAC on many Mideast issues.

But her announcement statement was all domestic, stressing her support for Medicare and Social security and focusing heavily on jobs – a big issue in recession-ravaged Nevada.

The Republican frontrunner is Rep. Dean Heller, who Berkley is linking to the Tea Party movement.

“The problem in Washington is that Republicans like Dean Heller are clinging to extreme ideology rather than working on solutions that address the challenges facing our state,” she said in her announcement statement. “This race is about a clear choice for Nevada’s future. While Dean Heller is proudly fighting on behalf of the Tea Party to dismantle Medicare and Social Security and protect corporations that ship American jobs overseas, I will continue working on behalf of Nevada’s middle-class families by creating good paying jobs and keeping our promises to seniors.”

A recent poll showed Berkley ahead of Heller by about 4 points, just about the survey’s margin of error; a January poll showed her significantly behind.

But Berkley is betting that with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security now being debated in Washington and Tea Party advocates pressing harder for big cuts, Nevadans may be ready for another Democrat in the Senate.

Israel policy is not likely to be an issue in the race. Heller is a strong supporter, although the issue has not been one of his political priorities, and Berkley, with her ZOA connection, won’t be vulnerable to GOP attacks on the issue.

And you can bet she’ll effectively mine pro-Israel funding sources to help pay for what will be a very expensive campaign.

Incidentally, Berkley was featured in a recent “Godsend” column in the Jewish Week describing her romance with Lawrence Lehrner and ultimate marriage.



About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.