I-Team: Rep. Berkley Considering Run for Ensign's Senate Seat - 8 News NOW

Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp and Chief Photojournalist Matt Adams

I-Team: Rep. Berkley Considering Run for Ensign's Senate Seat

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LAS VEGAS -- Nevada has a small congressional delegation because the state's small population. That means they have had to work together, often across party lines. But in the near future, some of them could be competing for the same job.

Congresswoman Shelley Berkley is immensely popular in Congressional District One. For a Democrat, it is as safe as seat as there is and Berkley has worked hard to build her base there.

But she says she is giving serious consideration to a run for the U.S. Senate next year, a seat now held by Republican John Ensign. It would mean giving up a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee and competing for votes in parts of Nevada that view Las Vegas as a foreign country.

If there is any doubt about which district Berkley represents, it evaporates with one glance around her Washington office. The cardboard cutout of Liberace in hot pants is one clue. Photos of Neon Las Vegas resolve the mystery.

"This is my whole life in one room. So you see a lot of patriotic things, a lot of Jewish things. It's Las Vegas and my Sinatra photos and the Liberace cutout is truly the talking point of anybody who comes into the office," she said.

Berkley epitomizes Nevada's District One. She flies back from Washington every weekend to speak at events and mingle with constituents, always working the room like a lounge pro. In D.C., it's more of the same, carving out time to meet voters face to face, proving to her environmentalist constituents that she walks the walk by showing off her smart car -- one of the few in Congress.

So solid is her support that it is generally believed she could keep her seat as long as she wants, but Berkley says the political scandals which have pummeled Senator Ensign led her to consider a run for his seat in 2012.

"I think it would be disingenuous if I said I wasn't looking at it, and I am looking at it. I love my job and I have developed a good deal of seniority. I sit on the most powerful committee in Congress," she said.

But, a senator wields much more power than a congresswoman, even one who has served for 12 years. A Senate term is for six years, not two, meaning Berkley would not have to be in constant campaign mode if she could win.

Ensign is wounded but vows to run hard to win a second term. Also, part of the equation is northern Nevada Congressman Dean Heller, who might challenge Ensign in the Republican primary. Heller and Berkley have a good relationship and sat together during last week's State of the Union Address. Berkley says her decision to run will have nothing to do with who her opponent will be.

"I'm going to make this decision before I know who my opponent is," she said.

It also means traveling out of her district to gauge how voters in northern and rural parts of the state might react to the flamboyant representative from Las Vegas.

"How will the people up north perceive me? I'm going to take a couple of trips up north before I make any decisions and talk to people -- see how they feel. Am I someone they would trust and admire enough to elect? If all those things fall into place and I have the possibility of a Senate seat, then I may very well do that," she said.

And until the decision is made, Berkley will have to work closely with her future opponents. President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech was a good start. She says, even though the gesture of sitting with the opposite party might have seemed like a fleeting "kumbaya" gesture, Berkley thinks a return to civility was long overdue.

"You could just see there was terrible tension and anger. Members of Congress were not setting a very good example for our constituents, quite candidly. I've noticed a difference, whether it was the tragedy in Tucson or the very successful lame duck session where we worked together and passed a number of important pieces of legislation, or maybe it just a sense that things were getting out of hand. Whatever it is, it's working," she said.

Berkeley says she is in no hurry to make her decision about running, but she expects to make up her mind by the summer. People close to her say they think she is leaning 60 percent to 40 percent in favor of running.

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