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What the Heller?

Last month, Senator Dean Heller (R) pleased just about no one with his frequent equivocation on Trumpcare. Now that August recess is here, Heller returns home to an electorate who’s anything but content with his record.

Heller tries hedging his bets

On June 23, Heller seemingly made it crystal clear that he found Trumpcare unacceptable. Alongside Governor Brian Sandoval (R), Heller himself said, “This bill […] is simply not the answer.”

Photo by Andrew Davey

According to Heller, his fellow Senate Republicans were going too far in cutting Medicaid and consumer insurance protections. Again, Heller himself said, “This bill will mean a loss of coverage for millions of Americans and many Nevadans.” He promised that day not to vote for the bill or the motion to proceed. So what changed?

Enter McConnell’s millions… And Trump’s temper.

On July 19, Donald Trump uttered these now infamous words to Heller: “Look, he wants to be a Senator, doesn’t he?” Heller got that memo, as he reversed course on July 25 to vote for the motion to proceed with Trumpcare.

What likely made Trump’s verbal threat more potent was the $1 million in SuperPAC money that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) pledged in support of Heller’s reelection campaign. Not only did Heller flip to vote for the motion to proceed, but he also voted for the final “skinny repeal” Trumpcare bill. That came despite Sandoval signing onto a letter from a bipartisan group of Governors denouncing “skinny repeal” along with the other versions of Trumpcare.

Money might have bought Heller’s vote, but what about his constituents’ votes?

Despite Heller’s vote, even the “skinny repeal” version of Trumpcare failed in the U.S. Senate late on the night of July 27. And despite McConnell’s pledge to bail Heller out with his Super PAC, Heller remains unpopular with the general public. Nearly all polls conducted this year show Heller’s approval rating underwater among Nevada voters.

As a result, Heller’s reelection next year is anything but a safe bet. A recent poll by Republican outfit Strategic National shows Heller leading perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian by only 4% (38%-34%) in the Republican Primary, while a recent Public Policy Polling survey (done for Save My Care) shows Heller losing to “generic Democrat” in the general election by double-digits.

And now, here’s Danny!

This morning, Danny Tarkanian officially announced his Republican primary challenge to Senator Dean Heller. In his first campaign email, Tarkanian essentially repeated the same lines of attack conservative talk radio hosts have been using against Heller all year regarding his many Trumpcare flip-flops and frequent criticism of Donald Trump.

Even as Tarkanian and pro-Trump conservatives condemn Heller for his disloyalty to Trump, Heller has voted with Trump’s position nearly 90% of the time. Because of his inconvenient record, Heller has had difficulty translating his occasional verbal critiques of Trump into actual crossover appeal among non-Republican voters. And if Heller attempts to shore up his right flank against Tarkanian, he only further risks alienating the swing voters he needs against Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) or Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) in the general election.

Such is life for America’s most politically endangered Senator. Ultimately, Heller put himself in danger by refusing to provide any sort of consistency. As a result, the only thing consistent about Senator Heller is his ugly poll numbers.

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