Republicans are facing a problem as they try to defend a slim majority in the Senate and win races elsewhere: They’re spending time and money fending off insurgent primary candidates trying to lay claim to President Donald Trump’s mantle and knock out the establishment’s choices.
The latest case is in Nevada, where endangered GOP incumbent Sen. Dean Heller, R-NV, drew a challenge Tuesday from businessman and repeat failed candidate Danny Tarkanian. Tarkanian announced his bid in an early morning interview seemingly aimed at an audience of one: The president himself.
“It’ll unify a lot in the end, but it’ll also excite the party base,” said Michael McDonald, chairman of the Nevada Republican Party.
But, McDonald also knows a battle is brewing. Tarkanian’s bid for Heller’s seat could turn out to be a vicious fight before the general election.
Why? Heller’s seat is shaping up to be the most hotly-contested Senate seat in the country.
“Senator Heller’s no slouch when it comes to campaigning, neither is Danny Tarkanian, so we have two different records that are taking place,” said Michael McDonald, chairman of the Nevada Republican Party.
Heller appeals to the more moderate wing of the party, while Tarkanian appeals to the conservative side.
But in the showdown, McDonald is careful not to take sides.
“Democrats slammed Sen. Heller for being pro-Trump, and then we have people that are slamming Sen. Heller that he’s anti-Trump, that he’s not Trump enough,” McDonald said.
But during the president’s run, Heller never jumped on the Trump train; Tarkanian did. According to Tarkanian, Heller’s non-support for the president was the reason, Democrats, picking up wins in the last election.
“Dean Heller’s ‘Never Trumper’ stance, along with others in the top of the Republicans in the state, they’re the ones that hurt all of us on the down-ticket, including myself,” Tarkanian said.
Tarkanian also blames Heller for the Senate Republicans’ inability to pass any of health care bills.
“Dean Heller’s grandstanding play with the press conference on the health care bill, all it did was take away any enthusiasm that the Senate had in getting that bill passed, and it didn’t,” according to Tarkanian.
Heller voted against any repeal bills twice before voting in favor of the “Skinny Repeal,” which was narrowly defeated on the Senate floor.
“I am the senior senator from the state of Nevada; my job is to take care of my state,” said Sen. Dean Heller.
In an exclusive interview with Politics NOW Host Patrick Walker, Heller defended his record as he prepares for challenges from both the left and the right.
“Sometimes I have to make decisions that aren’t the most popular, but I will continue to fight for the state of Nevada, whether that’s Yucca Mountain, whether that’s health care, whether that’s going through comprehensive tax reform,” Sen. Dean Heller said.
That fight will temporarily move from Washington, D.C. to the state of Nevada.
“It’s going to be one of those where they go toe-to-toe,” McDonald said.
Shortly after Tarkanian’s announcement a spokesperson within the Heller camp sent the following statement:
“Danny Tarkanian is a perennial candidate who has spent millions of dollars on five campaigns over the last decade. Nevada voters rejected him every time – including less than a year ago against Jacky Rosen. He’s wasted conservatives’ time and cost the Republican Party seats up and down the ballot. If he ultimately files for U.S. Senate, he will lose in the primary.”