Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, is seen as the most vulnerable Senate Republican in 2018 and now he may have a fight just emerge from the GOP primary thanks to a vigorous, America First challenge from businessman Danny Tarkanian.
In 2018, Republicans are defending just eight seats, while Democrats are trying to protect 25 different seats, many of them in states President Trump carried in 2016. Heller is one of those eight Republicans on the ballot next year, but his approval numbers in his home state are very low. Just 22 percent of Nevadans approved of Heller’s job performance in a left-leaning poll released August 1.
The same survey found Nevadans ready to support a generic Democrat over Heller by a 50-31 percent margin. Tarkanian sees those same numbers and says Heller’s performance in Washington, particularly on Obamacare, is a big reason for the disapproval.
“The people of Nevada are very frustrated with the representation they’ve had from Sen. Heller over the years and I think it culminated with his vote not to repeal Obamacare after he promised to,” said Tarkanian.
“They expect him to keep his word from what he promises when he campaigns when he’s trying to get elected,” said Tarkanian. “Everywhere I go in this great state of Nevada, I hear people say they’re sick and tired of politicians who promise one thing when they run for office and they do the exact opposite when they get elected.”
Defenders of Heller point out he did not help to kill the Obamacare repeal in the debate because he supported the “skinny repeal” that was eventually sunk by GOP moderates Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and John McCain.
Tarkanian is not impressed.
“The skinny repeal was a joke. It was the worst bill that was proposed out there and it didn’t do anything to lower the premiums for the hard-working middle class Americans that have seen their premiums go up like my family’s: $12,000 a year, our deductibles 500 percent (higher), our co-pay for a specialist doctor 400 percent (higher),” said Tarkanian.
“Dean Heller’s skinny repeal that he brags about that he signed, actually raises the premium another 20 percent more than it’s already going to raise. It was the worst possible bill out there,” said Tarkanian.
But Tarkanian says Heller was on the wrong side when the chance for real repeal was on the table.
“He promised he would vote to repeal Obamacare. That is what he did in 2015, when he knew that President Obama would veto it. Then in 2017, the exact same bill came before him, and he joined six other senators, who had signed for the repeal in 2015 that voted against the repeal this year, knowing President Trump would sign it. That’s what’s infuriated the people of Nevada,” said Tarkanian.
Tarkanian admits he doesn’t have a lot of political experience but notes that Heller has been in politics for 30 years. The challenger says his principles are very clear.
“I have worked in the Republican Party as a very strong advocate for conservative principles, America First principles that Donald Trump is talking about. I never wavered on that support, even though it cost me quite a bit in previous elections because I had the conviction to stand up for what I believed in,” said Tarkanian.
He is running as an enthusiastic supporter of the Trump agenda.
“We have a president who really has the courage and conviction to really try to make substantive and meaningful changes to the way D.C. operates. Some good things are happening through executive order. But for him to get his America First agenda passed, he’s going to need senators to support that agenda. And I fully support the president’s America First agenda,” said Tarkanian.
Aligning so closely with the Trump agenda could be risky in a state Trump lost in 2016 and stands at 40 percent approval. Tarkanian sees it as a matter of principle.
“It’s the right thing to do. It’s the only strategy you should look at. What’s the right thing to do? The right thing to do is to get President Trump’s America First policies passed,” said Tarkanian.
Tarkanian makes it clear he doesn’t necessarily subscribe to Trump’s political style but they do see eye to eye on policy. He says the media spend far more time on Trump’s personality, and other than Obamacare, spend hardly any time on policy.
“The only (other) time I’ve seen them attack his policy was on the travel ban. They haven’t said a single thing about the other things he’s trying to accomplish. We’re seeing stock market highs virtually daily, unemployment at a 16-year low. Border crossings are down 70 percent for illegal immigrants. ISIS is being destroyed in Iraq and Syria,” said Tarkanian.
He is also confident that a conservative can win in an increasingly blue state like Nevada. Tarkanian points out the GOP swept all the major races in 2014 and a coalition is there for him as well.
“It’s a tough state but it’s not a state that’s out of reach. There’s six percent more Democrats in the state. Twenty-three percent of the state is independent. So if you win the independents and hold you base,a good strong Republican can win,” said Tarkanian.
Tarkanian is the son of the late University of Nevada-Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, who won a national championship in four trips to the Final Four but also clashed with the NCAA for decades over alleged infractions.
Danny, who played for his father, says he was prepared for politics after watching his father get hammered in the media.
“I had the unfortunate opportunity to watch how the media crucified my father when he was coach,” said Tarkanian. “So, I’m used to seeing the criticism, and how unfair it was, and how my father handled it. I think that’s allowed me to handle it much better than almost any other person who has run for public office.”
Tarkanian has run twice for statewide office, twice for the House and once before for Senat. He lost his most recent race, a 2016, House campaign, by less than 4,000 votes.
“I’ve had some very tough and agonizing losses. I learned that you fight back from those losses. You don’t give up. You show perseverance and a never quit attitude. That’s the only way you overcome those things. I think a lot people would have thrown in the towel by now if they were in my shoes. Because of the way I was raised, that isn’t me,” said Tarkanian.