TRUMPETING TRUMP Republican candidates predict loyalty to president will pay off
Undeterred by election losses, a spate of conservative candidates are wrapping themselves in the Trump mantle, believing the loyalty they have shown the president will pay off at the ballot box next year.
From Virginia to Arizona, conservative Republicans who lost primaries in the past are honing their next campaigns along the lines of Mr. Trump’s iconoclastic run last year, figuring he has blazed a new path for victory.
Nowhere is that more true than in Nevada, where Danny Tarkanian is hoping the sixth time is the charm as he seeks to unseat Sen. Dean Heller, a fellow Republican who he says turned his back on Mr. Trump and his “America First” agenda.
“I supported President Trump all the way through the end of the campaign last election — that was an unpopular position for many,” Mr. Tarkanian told The Washington Times this week. “I stood on an island by myself here in Nevada.”
Since 2004, Mr. Tarkanian, the son of the late legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, has run for the Nevada Senate, Nevada secretary of state, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House twice.
He nearly ended his losing streak last year when he lost one of those House races to Democrat Jacky Rosen by a single percentage point — after sticking with Mr. Trump the whole time.
Now he wants to turn his campaign loose on Mr. Heller, saying the incumbent isn’t doing enough to back Mr. Trump in the Senate.
“The reason so many have encouraged me to run against Dean Heller is because I supported President Trump and Dean Heller has not,” Mr. Tarkanian said.
Mr. Tarkanian said Mr. Heller has recently begun trying to repair the gap with Mr. Trump by pointing to Heller-backed bills that the president has signed and by revealing that he did in fact vote for Mr. Trump in last year’s election.
But the senator this week criticized Mr. Trump’s pardon of former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and told NBC he is not eager to force a government shutdown over funding for a border wall.
Tommy Ferraro, a Heller campaign spokesman, said Mr. Heller is “committed to advancing the conservative agenda.”
“Dean voted for the Obamacare repeal effort that the president backed, continues to play a critical role in crafting a tax reform proposal that the president enthusiastically supports, and is dedicated to working with the administration on an infrastructure bill that will boost growth and job creation in Nevada and throughout the country,” Mr. Ferraro said. “Danny Tarkanian is a perennial candidate who has lost five races spanning over more than a decade.”
Mr. Trump has not weighed in on the Nevada race, but he has taken sides in a Republican primary in Alabama, where Sen. Luther Strange is in a runoff with former state Chief Justice Roy Moore.
Mr. Trump also has given a boost to Kelly Ward, a former Arizona state senator who, after losing a primary to Sen. John McCain last year, now hopes to unseat Sen. Jeff Flake, also a Republican.
At a rally in Arizona last week, Mr. Trump said Mr. Flake was “weak on borders, weak on crime.”
Mr. Trump won the White House by identifying and turning out disaffected voters, tapping social media, and picking feuds with Republicans, Democrats, the press, celebrities and even average Americans who he felt had wronged him.
Running toward Mr. Trump appears to be a good move in Alabama, where a Harper Polling survey released Tuesday found a plurality of Republican primary voters said their chief goal was to find a senator who shows “strong support for President Trump.”
How far Trump coattails can take candidates, though, remains to be seen.
“My instant impression is they might, and I would underline might, prevail in a primary given a mood of the electorate, but would have much more difficult times in a general election,” said Charlie Gerow, a Republican Party strategist. “It could be similar to what we saw a few years back in Delaware, Missouri and Indiana, where you had candidates who were not necessarily the best general election candidate prevail in primaries.”
An early test of Trumpism was in the June Republican governor’s primary in Virginia, where Corey Stewart — chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and a veteran of the Trump campaign — just missed out on upsetting Ed Gillespie, a longtime lobbyist, party chairman and senior adviser to President George W. Bush.
Now Mr. Stewart says he will take the Trump momentum into a new race, running next year against Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democratic incumbent.
Mr. Stewart, who chaired the Trump campaign in Virginia before getting fired for protesting the Republican National Committee, said his unwavering support for Mr. Trump has helped him reach out to voters in the rural part of the state and raise money for his campaign.
“It continues to help, especially in fundraising, as people want to know: What kind of Republican are you? And I express my support for Trump and they kind of know. It is an immediate brand.”
Mr. Stewart said Mr. Trump has moved the party away from the “blue-blood mentality that was kind of snotty and epitomized by Mitt Romney” and from fights over who is the most conservative on life, guns and taxes.
“That has given way to a Trumpian movement, which is more defined by attitude than by policy positions,” he said. “It is more about telling the establishment to ‘Go to hell.’ I was looking for a more polite way to say that, but there really isn’t one.”
Ford O’Connell, a Republican Party strategist, said that approach can work, at least within the primaries.
“What they understand is very similar — that regardless of the mishaps and some of the things that Trump has said, his agenda is very popular and voters agree with Trump’s agenda in those states,” he said. “So bear-hugging Trump is a good thing, but at the same time you have to show yourself as being capable of winning a general election.”