WASHINGTON — The Nevada Senate race is getting so close that the candidates are squabbling over who is winning more support among the state's Filipino-American veterans.
Senate Republican Dean Heller is claiming an endorsement from a new "Filipino-American veterans" group. Democratic challenger Rep. Shelley Berkley's campaign says he's exaggerating the group's size and importance. The group hasn't raised any money and is not part of the state's widely recognized advocacy outfit for Filipino-American veterans and their families.
The bickering is new evidence that the race for Nevada's Senate seat is joining other tightening contests in the final two months of the election. Republicans once appeared to be on track to gain the four seats they need to take control of the 100-seat chamber, but that's no longer clear.
Heller sought to show his connections with the Filipino-American community in Nevada, which is about 100,000 strong, when he introduced legislation to help Filipino vets from World War II left out of the $200 million set aside for Filipino vets as part of the economic stimulus package.
His campaign told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that a veterans group also would be endorsing him Saturday.
Democratic officials have been discounting the importance of that endorsement ever since, saying it's basically a two-person group that doesn't even formally exist yet because it has not raised any money or filed its paperwork to be a political action committee.
"The story here is that the Dean Heller campaign is so desperate to show they have support from the Asian-American, Pacific-Islander community, they not only made up a veterans group that doesn't exist, but whose supposed leader also says it's not a veterans group," said Zac Petkanas, senior communications adviser for the Nevada State Democratic Party.
Luke Perry, vice chairman of the new group, Filipino American Families of America in Politics, emphasized in a telephone interview that the group does not represent veterans. He said, however, that he was helping to form the organization because of Heller's work for Filipino vets. He said appeals to Democrats to help those left out of the stimulus bill have been ignored.
"He will reap the reward for trying to help the Filipino-American community," Perry said.
Chandler Smith, a spokeswoman for the Heller campaign, said that the complaints were "pathetic and desperate."
"Unlike Shelley Berkley, Dean Heller would never take the support of any community for granted and will continue to work hard for all Nevadans," Smith said.