Ne­vada’s Heller most vul­ner­a­ble in 2018, breaks with GOP

The Washington Times Weekly - - Pol­i­tics - BY SALLY PER­SONS

Ne­vada Sen. Dean Heller has found plenty of rea­sons this year to break ranks with fel­low Repub­li­cans — in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Trump.

On ev­ery­thing from Pres­i­dent Trump’s bud­get to the Oba­macare re­peal to the ul­ti­mate parochial is­sue of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s plans for a nu­clear waste repos­i­tory at Yucca Moun­tain — the clas­sic parochial is­sue for a Ne­vada politi­cian — Mr. Heller has balked at his party lead­ers’ plans.

He’s also the most vul­ner­a­ble GOP in­cum­bent head­ing into 2018, and Democrats are al­ready pour­ing money into the state, look­ing to force him into a cor­ner on the hot-but­ton is­sues like health care.

Mr. Heller is among the Repub­li­cans most vo­cif­er­ously ques­tion­ing the GOP’s health care bill.

“I can­not sup­port a bill that takes in­sur­ance away from tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans,” the sen­a­tor said at a press con­fer­ence last week with Ne­vada Gov. Brian San­doval.

One Demo­cratic strate­gist said the sen­a­tor’s op­po­si­tion to the GOP’s pro­posed re­place­ment for Oba­macare isn’t enough, say­ing Mr. Heller has to an­swer for the Repub­li­can-au­thored bill if he seeks a sec­ond term next fall.

But Mr. Heller isn’t just get­ting slammed by Democrats. Con­ser­va­tives in the state have also ex­pressed their frus­tra­tion with Mr. Heller.

Back in April, Mr. Heller irked the right with com­ments at a town hall when he said, “I have no prob­lems with fed­eral fund­ing for Planned Par­ent­hood.”

The next day, Mr. Heller’s spokes­woman Me­gan Tay­lor re­leased a state­ment that read in part, “While he doesn’t have a prob­lem with many of the health care ser­vices Planned Par­ent­hood of­fers to women, he is op­posed to pro­vid­ing fed­eral fund­ing to any or­ga­ni­za­tion that per­forms abor­tions and is sup­ported by tax­pay­ers’ dol­lars; he has a long record that re­flects his po­si­tion.”

Even be­fore the Planned Par­ent­hood flap, Mr. Heller was fend­ing off com­plaints from con­ser­va­tives who said he was too tepid in his sup­port for Mr. Trump. A proTrump po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee even threat­ened to run ads against him for re­fus­ing to sign on to the health bill.

Mr. Heller has de­fended him­self against such at­tacks at a few rowdy town halls ear­lier this year, say­ing he’s a con­ser­va­tive who be­lieves in low taxes and small gov­ern­ment.

His big­gest fight with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is over Yucca Moun­tain, which has been on the books for years, but had stalled thanks to court cases and the op­po­si­tion of then-Sen. Harry Reid, a Ne­vadan who was also Se­nate Democrats’ leader for more than a decade.

The nu­clear waste repos­i­tory site is lo­cated about 90 miles out­side of Las Ve­gas, and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans are try­ing to restart the project.

State of­fi­cials have been try­ing to block it, ar­gu­ing the state’s tourism would suf­fer and that the state doesn’t de­serve to be take the coun­try’s left­overs.

“Ne­vada will not serve as our na­tion’s nu­clear waste dump,” Mr. Heller said ear­lier this month. “The only vi­able so­lu­tion to our coun­try’s nu­clear waste prob­lem is one that is rooted in con­sent, and Ne­vada has said ‘no.’”

Mr. Heller’s firm Yucca op­po­si­tion polls well in Ne­vada, and that could serve him as he tries to win re-election in a state that tilts blue at the na­tional po­lit­i­cal level.

He’s also count­ing on vot­ers find­ing him to be a lik­able guy, some­one who holds him­self to a stan­dard apart from par­ti­san pol­i­tics.

“Dean Heller has a per­sonal con­nec­tion to Ne­vadans. He’s worked hard to build those re­la­tion­ships over the years. It goes far be­yond a 30-sec­ond ad or any one pol­icy po­si­tion,” said Mike Slanker, Mr. Heller’s cam­paign con­sul­tant.

Democrats, though, say Mr. Heller may be leav­ing him­self po­lit­i­cally iso­lated, alien­at­ing GOP vot­ers while fail­ing to woo Democrats or moder­ates.

They said the mod­er­ate mid­dle-ground ap­proach failed for for­mer Rep. Joe Heck, a Repub­li­can who lost his bid last year to win the Se­nate seat Mr. Reid was leav­ing empty.

Mr. Heck waf­fled on his sup­port for the Trump cam­paign last year be­fore los­ing to Sen. Cather­ine Cortez Masto, a Reid pro­tege.

Two Repub­li­can strate­gists pointed to Mr. Heller’s vic­tory in 2012 de­spite the pres­ence of for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on the bal­lot, say­ing Mr. Heller is dif­fer­ent than Mr. Heck.

One of the strate­gists said the only rea­son Mr. Heck is deemed the most vul­ner­a­ble GOP in­cum­bent next year is be­cause there are so few Repub­li­cans up for re-election.

Democrats are slated to de­fend 23 seats plus two in­de­pen­dents that cau­cus with them in 2018. Repub­li­cans, mean­while, have eight seats up, and Mr. Heller is the only one sit­ting in a state won by Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton in 2016.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sen. Dean Heller, Ne­vada Repub­li­can, has been fend­ing off com­plaints from con­ser­va­tives who said he was too tepid in his sup­port for Pres­i­dent Trump.

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