There may be no politician who has emerged more badly wounded from the failed effort to repeal Obamacare than Nevada senator Dean Heller. And now he has a primary challenger to add to his mounting woes.
Danny Tarkanian, son of legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, announced on Tuesday morning’s Fox & Friends that he would oppose Heller for the Republican nomination next year. “So many people have contacted me over the last couple of months saying you’ve got to run against Dean Heller,” Tarkanian said. “They understand as I do that we’re never going to make America great again unless we have senators in office that fully support President Trump and his ‘America First’ agenda.”
The appearance seemed aimed directly at the Fox & Friends addict in the White House. President Trump is no fan of Heller: He made the senator squirm in public several weeks ago over his initial opposition to Obamacare repeal, and a Trump-linked group even ran ads attacking the senator before a GOP outcry forced their removal.
Heller, a “moderate” Republican who was already facing a tough reelection fight next year in increasingly blue Nevada, damaged his standing with an incoherent health-care strategy. In June, he held a press conference with Nevada governor Brian Sandoval — a far more popular figure than Heller — to deride the Republican plans to replace Obamacare as overly cruel. But when the chips were down (an appropriate metaphor for Heller, since casino magnates helped buy off his vote), Heller said “aye” to Mitch McConnell’s key “motion to proceed” measure, and, eventually the “skinny repeal” bill that came within one vote of passing in the Senate.
In the process, he managed to alienate both the left — for seeming to betray the principles laid out in his dramatic press conference — and the right, by opposing the more draconian, full-repeal versions of the bill. No wonder his poll numbers are deep underwater.
It’s true that Tarkanian is not exactly a political powerhouse — he is a perennial losing candidate in statewide Nevada elections. But Heller already faces a strong Democratic challenger, and the prospect of fighting on both flanks has to be alarming for America’s most deservedly embattled senator.