Home Turf

The One That Adelson Won

Ali Gharib on the one race that Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson may have tipped in his favor.

Roslan Rahman / AFP / Getty Images

The many critics of Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson were quick to point out that he had a very, very bad day yesterday. Adelson lost almost all the races he was known to pour money into—record amounts perhaps topping $80 million—from Mitt Romney's bid atop the Republican ticket on down to a host of Congressional races. But he did have one victory: helping Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) stave off Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley's bid to move to the upper chamber. Adelson's support for Heller is just the latest chapter in a long-running feud between the gambling tycoon and Berkley, who was once his corporate attorney at the Las Vegas Sands company. The two parted ways in the mid-1990s when Berkley, still at Sands, came out against Adelson's efforts to oust unions from his flagship Venetian hotel on the Las Vegas strip.

Adelson's Sands company was listed as the top donor to Heller's campaign. Adelson seems to have infused cash into the race through less direct means, too, reportedly gaving $10 million to the Karl Rove-helmed Crossroads GPS and pledging to double his initial investment. Crossroads went on to pour $6.6 million into the Heller-Berkley race, including a reported $1.2 million in October alone. With only 1.2 million registered voters in the state, that's a tremendous sum.

While Berkley and Adelson disagreed on unions, they lined up on another of Adelson's pet issues: Israel. Despite other leftie proclivities, Berkley has a reputation as a pro-Israel hawk, earning respect for her positions even from the Christian rightist Gary Bauer. During the Jerusalem platform flap, Berkley fell squarely into the camp that, at AIPAC's apparent behest, objected to the omission of naming Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Not to be outdone, "Israel" is the sole foreign policy issue listed on Heller's campaign website. "I am not big on foreign aid but when it comes to Israel I am 100 percent in foreign aid behind Israel," Heller said in 2010 at a meeting with a reporter where he and Berkley tried to outdo each other. "And if you want to build 1,600 units in east Jerusalem, I am okay with that too."

In 2010 at an event for his pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom, Adelson remarked, "All we care about is being good Zionists, being good citizens of Israel. Because although I'm not Israeli-born, Israel is in my heart." But Adelson misspoke: his right-wing vision of Israel may be his top priority, but he cares a heck of a lot about other things, too, like destroying unions. All things being equal on Israel in the Nevada Senate race, it made sense for Adelson to funnel resources to beat back his old pro-union foil. Adelson may have lost all the other races he let millions loose on, but it's just drops in the bucket for the billionaire. I bet if you asked him, having a pro-settlement, anti-union guy retain Adelson's home state Senate seat in a close race was probably worth the whole shebang.