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The View From Nevada: Senate Race Too Close for GOP Comfort

October 8, 2018

By J.D. Durkin

When Dean Heller first entered national politics in his native Nevada, the likelihood of Donald Trump — then a real estate mega personality and TV host — entering the world of politics seemed an impossible joke to many. Trump, after all, was featured in both WWE Raw and WrestleMania 23 in 2007, the first year that Heller first served in Congress as a member of the House of Representatives.

Heller fought for years to establish his conservative credentials in the purple battleground he represents, clinching a U.S. Senate seat four years later. But years of Republican experience mean little when an outsider TV Manhattanite bulldozes longtime party orthodoxy, and now Heller is one of the few forces of Trump antagonism who remain standing.

But soon — he too may fall.

The tensions between Heller and Trump were never on display so clearly as they were on July 20, 2017, at the White House. Heller and other Republican Senators were stalled on healthcare that particular Wednesday; the President used his head-of-the-table bully pulpit to deliver a searing message to Heller seated just inches away:

"This was the one we were worried about. You weren't there. But you're gonna be. You're gonna be. Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn't he? And I think the people of your state, which I know very well, I think they're gonna appreciate what you hopefully will do. Any senator who votes against starting debate is really telling America that you're fine with Obamacare. But being fine with Obamacare isn't enough for another reason. Because it's gone. It's failed. It's not gonna be around."

The subtext of Trump's quip was clear: Listen pal, I’m gonna be funny about this for the cameras but don’t take this as a joke.

Healthcare last summer sharply divided the two men, though Heller eventually fell in line to vote through the President’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Trump’s choice of rhetoric, at times, was also a factor in Heller’s hesitancy to go full-MAGA. Forty-five percent of Nevada voters supported Trump in 2016, and the state’s ever-shifting demographics threaten Republican influence every year.

Now, in 2018 — with the healthcare fight long in the rearview and the rivalry between Heller and Trump (somewhat?) behind them, the uncertain political terrain could offer a sharp opportunity for Heller’s Democratic challenger, Rep. Jacky Rosen.

Rosen has been in Congress only two weeks longer than Trump has been President; but voters in the Silver State will have the opportunity in just weeks to decide between a household name they’ve known for decades versus a Congresswoman with momentum — and, perhaps most importantly for the moment, a clearly-defined and unequivocally vocal stance on the contentious confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.