Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., during a press conference where he announced he will vote no on the proposed GOP healthcare bill at the Grant Sawyer State Office Building on Friday, June 23, 2017 in Las Vegas. 
Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP

Politics of health care fight takes its toll on Nevada’s Heller

By some measures, the politics of the health care fight have affected no politician more than Sen. Dean Heller (R), the only Republican senator up for re-election next year in a state Hillary Clinton won.

As regular readers know, Heller adopted a bold posture in late June, rejecting his party’s plans in no uncertain terms, which predictably infuriated the far-right. In the days and weeks that followed, party pressure increased, and some Republican insiders went so far as to say that Heller could be “bought off.”

Ultimately, the Nevada senator sided with his party on the final repeal vote, which left many health care advocates feeling betrayed, and which left Heller with nothing to  show for his trouble when the bill failed anyway.

The Senate Leadership Fund, the Senate Republican leadership’s super PAC, has already vowed to invest heavily in Heller’s re-election, and it looks like he’ll need the help. Not only has the incumbent lawmaker’s approval rating dropped to 22%, but as of this morning, as TPM noted Heller also has a primary challenger.

After facing backlash from President Donald Trump and a Pro-Trump group over his sometimes-critical stance on the Senate Republican’s Obamacare repeal and replace bill, Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) now has a GOP challenger for his seat in 2018.

[Danny] Tarkanian announced on “Fox and Friends” Tuesday morning that he is running for Heller’s seat. The Nevada Republican said he plans to campaign on the promise of supporting Trump’s agenda, which he claims Heller hasn’t done.

Tarkanian, the son of a famous basketball coach, will at least have a name familiar to voters: according to his Wikipedia page, he’s run unsuccessful campaigns for state Senate (2004), Nevada Secretary of State (2006), U.S. Senate (2010), and U.S. House (2012 and 2016).

But what stood out as especially notable about his announcement this morning was its timing.

Why in the world would Danny Tarkanian kick off his Senate campaign at 7 a.m. eastern – when most voters in Nevada are still asleep – on a cable morning show? Probably because he knows a certain someone, who happens to be the president of the United States, was watching. Tarkanian’s strategy, in other words, involves currying favor with Donald Trump.

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.