Heller embraces Trump in risky attempt to survive in November

Heller embraces Trump in risky attempt to survive in November

Nevada's Republican Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE is going all in with President TrumpDonald John TrumpLiz Cheney: 'Send her back' chant 'inappropriate' but not about race, gender Booker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Top Democrat insists country hasn't moved on from Mueller MORE, gambling that turning out the Republican base will be the best way to survive a tough election in November.

That embrace is a risky move in a state that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGeorge Takei: US has hit a new low under Trump Democrats slam Puerto Rico governor over 'shameful' comments, back protesters Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE narrowly carried in 2016 and one where Trump remains largely unpopular. 

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Heller is considered one of the most vulnerable senators as he pursues a second full term after being appointed to the seat in 2011 to replace Sen. John Ensign (R).

But turning out Republican voters to counter a spike in Democratic enthusiasm is seen by Heller as the best strategy to ward off defeat in an election that will likely be determined by base turnout, just like previous midterms.

“The calculus they’re making is this is an election that is more about base turnout than it is about persuading independents,” said GOP strategist Doug Heye. “That may not be without risk, but at least in the last cycle, it had success.”

Heller's embrace of Trump was front and center in the rally the president held for him on Thursday in Las Vegas. 

At the rally, Trump publicly acknowledged his once strained history with Heller — one that dates back to the 2016 election when the GOP senator kept his distance from the then-presidential candidate.

But the two have built a working relationship on issues like health care and taxes, and Trump now sees Heller as one of his most reliable allies in Congress.

“Now I have to say this, when we started out, we weren’t friends. I didn’t like him, he didn’t like me, and as we fought and fought and fought, believe it or not, we started to respect each other ... and then we started to love each other,” Trump said at the rally.

“He’s been a tremendous supporter ever since I won the election,” he added. “Sen. Dean Heller is going to be with us all the time."

Yet Heller’s decision to hug Trump poses a complicated balancing act. The senator may need to turn out his base come November, but he also risks turning off moderates and independent voters.

Recent polling is showing the Senate race in a dead heat, while the president's approval rating is stuck in the mid-40s, a number that typically signals danger for incumbent congressional members of the same party.

And Democrats currently hold a registration advantage over Republicans, with a little less than a quarter of voters considered nonpartisan.

When asked if Trump’s support could hurt him politically, Heller said he views his help as a positive.

“As far as I’m concerned, if he’s going to be — any president, any president that comes into Nevada, I’m going to be standing with them,” Heller told reporters this week, according to The Associated Press.

“I think that’s a positive with any president when they come into the state.”

But some strategists wonder whether embracing Trump at the expense of more moderate voters can work in Nevada, given the president won't be on the ballot.

“That’s part of the open question: how much are the Trump voters to some extent like Obama voters were?” Heye said. “They had this amazing coalition when on the ballot and when he wasn’t on the ballot, they got clobbered twice.”

Heller faces a tough challenge from freshman Democratic Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenHillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Senators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE, his opponent in November.

In a statement following the rally, Rosen said Heller would be a “rubber stamp” to Trump's agenda, while touting herself as an “independent voice” if elected to the Senate.

The GOP tax law is expected to play a major role in the Senate race.

Heller has touted his work in helping to craft the GOP tax law, but it's an issue some strategists say he’s using less often on the campaign trail as he plays up veterans issues instead.

Meanwhile, Rosen, like many Democrats, is framing the tax cuts as more beneficial to wealthy individuals and corporations than to middle-class families.

An internal poll commissioned by the Republican National Committee and obtained by Bloomberg found that Republicans have “lost the messaging battle”, with 61 percent of respondents saying they believe that law benefits the wealthy and corporations.

Rosen is also hammering Heller over his support for a failed ObamaCare repeal bill. Heller initially opposed the GOP-led efforts, but he ultimately backed a "skinny" repeal bill, defending his decision by arguing it wouldn't have touched Nevada's Medicaid expansion. 

Rosen has used the issue as a one-two punch, painting Heller as a flip-flopper and "Senator Spineless," while also spotlighting how the vote would have hurt health-care coverage for families across Nevada.

Heller has fired back in his own ad on health care, arguing that Rosen has done "nothing" on health care in her congressional tenure and saying he wants to protect coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

In light of the constant attacks, some political observers believe that turning to the Republican base is not only a matter of survival, it is also a matter of being pragmatic.

David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, noted that while Clinton won Nevada statewide, Trump improved on Republican turnout numbers in rural counties since 2012, which are reliable GOP voters.

“The other part of it is ‘we’re going to get negative ads calling us all Trumpians, might as well get the advantage of it as well,’ ” he said.