Berkley announces bid for US Senate

FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2010 file photo, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., gives a thumbs up after winning re-election to Congress during the Nevada State Democratic election night party in Las Vegas. Berkley's campaign announced Thursday, April 14, 2011 that she will run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by embattled Nevada Republican John Ensign, who is retiring. (AP Photo/Eric Jamison, File)

FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2010 file photo, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., gives a thumbs up after winning re-election to Congress during the Nevada State Democratic election night party in Las Vegas. Berkley's campaign announced Thursday, April 14, 2011 that she will run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by embattled Nevada Republican John Ensign, who is retiring. (AP Photo/Eric Jamison, File)

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Congresswoman Shelley Berkley will run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by embattled Nevada Republican John Ensign, who is retiring.

Berkley's campaign announced in a statement Thursday that the seven-term Democrat from Las Vegas is joining the race against northern Nevada GOP Congressman Dean Heller.

Berkley and Heller each easily won re-election in November, and have been considered front-runners to replace Ensign since he announced in March that he won't seek a third term. Both Berkley and Heller could face primary challenges in the Senate race. A Democratic lawyer, Byron Georgiou, has already announced he'll run.

Berkley quickly went after her possible GOP opponent, saying Republicans like Heller are "clinging to extreme ideology" rather than working on solutions to the state's problems.

"This race is about a clear choice for Nevada's future," she said. "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."

Berkley, 60, is a liberal Democrat and a former state assemblywoman. She was elected in 1999 to a congressional seat formerly held by Ensign.

Berkley's campaign said she would hold an announcement event in Nevada in the coming weeks.

Berkley has tried in recent months to extend unemployment benefits and provide relief for struggling homeowners in a state with the nation's highest jobless and foreclosure rates.

"As I talk to Nevadans across our state I hear one priority: jobs, jobs, jobs," Berkley said. "And that has been my focus."

Ensign, 53, announced last month he won't seek re-election in 2012. He is being investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee about allegations that he improperly helped the lobbying career of the husband of a woman with whom he had had an extramarital affair.

Ensign acknowledged in June 2009 that he had the affair with a former member of his campaign staff, and that he helped her husband, a member of his congressional staff, obtain lobbying work with a Nevada company.

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Associated Press writer Cristina Silva in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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