Published: Wed, August 09, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

GOP's vulnerable Sen. Dean Heller gets a primary challenger

GOP's vulnerable Sen. Dean Heller gets a primary challenger

Dean Heller drew a challenge Tuesday from businessman and repeat failed candidate Danny Tarkanian, who announced his bid in an early morning Fox News Channel appearance seemingly aimed at an audience of one: the president himself.

Heller, the only Republican senator from a state Hillary Clinton won last year, is already Democrats' top target in upper chamber in a year that otherwise has them on defense.

Tarkanian is a former professional basketball player and the son of former University of Nevada Las Vegas men's basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.

Still, Tarkanian's multiple campaigns, while unsuccessful, have made him a well-known name in Nevada politics.

Tarkanian has aligned himself closely with President Donald Trump and criticized Heller's votes on health care.

"Dean Heller wasn't just one of the first "Never Trumpers" in Nevada, he was one of the most influential".

"We're never going to make American great again unless we have senators in office that fully support President Trump and his America first agenda", Tarkanian said on the show, which Trump has been said to watch frequently.

Heller, who is facing what is expected to be a well-funded opposition from Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, greeted the news of his challenger with ridicule.

"I am a conservative Republican who supports the policies of President Trump to repeal Obamacare and end illegal immigration".

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Heller's campaign released a statement in response to Tarkanian.

Heller should probably be seen as the favorite, based largely on the power of incumbency and the support he'll receive from the party, but the fact that he'll have to deal with a primary challenge ahead of a tough re-election fight reinforces the impression that the Nevadan is the most vulnerable GOP incumbent of the 2018 cycle.

Tarkanian has twice run for U.S. House seats in Nevada, losing to Rosen by 1 percentage point previous year.

Heller voted in favor of the GOP Senate's failed "skinny repeal" of the Affordable Care Act, after opposing the GOP Senate's initial health care repeal and replacement plan.

"Danny Tarkanian is a perennial candidate who has spent millions of dollars on five campaigns over the last decade", said Tommy Ferraro, a spokesman for Heller's campaign.

Republicans face a problem as they try to defend a slim majority in the Senate and win races elsewhere: Insurgent primary candidates are trying to lay claim to President Donald Trump's mantle, and knock out the establishment's choices.

But Heller's support was not enough to get the bill passed, as three other Republicans torpedoed the measure. Rand Paul's proposal to void the 2010 law with a deadline of two years to enact a replacement.

Tarkanian's entry could make Heller look to move to the right. "He voted for straight repeal in 2015. Nevada voters have rejected him every time - including less than a year ago against Jacky Rosen", Ferraro wrote.

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