Nevada Senator Faces Challenge in 2018 GOP Senate Primary
Sen. Dean Heller opponent Danny Tarkanian promises firmer support for Trump, Obamacare repeal
By Janet Hook
WALL STREET JOURNAL
[Excerpted] – Sen. Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican up for re-election in 2018 who has been whipsawed by the politics of Congress’s health-care debate, has drawn a conservative primary opponent promising to be a more reliable ally for President Donald Trump.
Danny Tarkanian, a Las Vegas businessman, announced his candidacy in a statement early Tuesday morning, making real the threat Mr. Trump and his allies have made to challenge Republicans who didn’t consistently support the effort to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare.
“I am a conservative Republican who supports the policies of President Trump to repeal Obamacare and end illegal immigration,” said Mr. Tarkanian, who has unsuccessfully run for office in Nevada multiple times, most recently in 2016 when he lost a House race.
“I will continue to support President Trump’s policies that have led to a 20% increase in the stock market in just six months,” he said in his statement.
A primary challenge complicates the political outlook for Mr. Heller, whose seat is seen as one of the Democrats’ best prospects for a pickup in 2018. He won the seat in 2012, beating Democrat Shelley Berkley with 46% of the vote to 45%. He is the only Senate Republican up for re-election next year in a state that was won by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Republican strategists say they take the challenge seriously because, although Mr. Tarkanian has failed in all five of his bids for public office—state senate in 2004, Nevada secretary of state in 2006, U.S. Senate in 2010 and two House races—he did win GOP primaries in all but one of them.
Mr. Tarkanian has latched onto the health-care debate because it was difficult for Mr. Heller in the face of the cross pressures between his party and his swing-state constituents.
He openly criticized an early version of the repeal-and-replace legislation, and voted against a bill that would have just repealed the law, without a replacement. He voted for the last version brought to a vote, a stripped-down bill known as “skinny repeal,” which was rejected on a 51-49 vote.
Last month, Mr. Trump goaded Mr. Heller at a lunch with Republican senators for wavering on the repeal.
“Any senator who votes against starting debate is really telling America that you’re fine with Obamacare,” Mr. Trump said at the lunch. He gestured at Mr. Heller, saying, “He wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?”
The president hasn’t taken a public stance on Mr. Heller’s re-election.
Mr. Tarkanian, the son of the late University of Nevada-Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, accused Mr. Heller of going back on his campaign promise to repeal Obamacare.
“He turned his back on us,” Mr. Tarkanian said, describing the message he heard from Nevadans who urged him to challenge Mr. Heller.
Mr. Heller will have his party’s apparatus behind his reelection bid. The National Republican Senatorial Committee put out a statement saying it “fully supports Senator Heller in his primary and general elections. We are confident he will be re-elected.”
(Editor’s Note: Mr. Tarkanian has been confirmed as a speaker at the 2017 Conservative Leadership Conference in Las Vegas on September 15-16. Sen. Heller declined an invitation to participate. Click here for more information.)
Peter Zych: “Enjoy the benefits of returning to normal life Senator Heller.”
Chris Sykes: “2018 is coming. Welcome to the private sector, Senator Heller. You’ll find things are a little different here — we actually work and are judged on productive achievement.”
David Bryan: “You don’t get to say you want to repeal Obamacare only while it’s certain to be vetoed, and then when the bill actually would pass, you turn your back on that campaign promise. Buh bye, Heller.”
Mark Servello: “Mr. Heller has been whipsawed by his own double-cross of the citizens who elected him. Supported, it would seem, by his fellow swamp-dwellers on the National Republican Senatorial Committee.”
William Ford: “It is disgraceful that the national committee has already come out in support of turncoat Heller. Nevada is also a Medicaid expansion state.”
Gene Lebrenz: “Heller needs to know that the public is fed up with the RINO behavior of too many elected personnel in DC. Every candidate with the John McCain behavior in voting and public speaking needs to go. Voters need to do their part to ‘drain the D. C. Swamp.'”
Robin Freeman: “Why would the National Republican Senatorial Committee ‘fully support’ Senator Heller? As far as I can tell Senator Heller did not support the Republican Senate.”
R Scot Clark: “Heller received 456,000 votes in the 2013 senatorial election and Trump received 511,000 votes in Nevada for the presidential election. Heller is definitely on the wrong side of the Trump voters and they outnumber Heller’s voters in his last election.”
Daniel Smith: “Every GOP member opposed to Obamacare repeal must be removed from office. They are unqualified to serve anyone but their donors and those who bribe them to vote against their constituents.