Heller under siege, even before healthcare

Heller under siege, even before healthcare
© Greg Nash

The most vulnerable Republican senator seeking reelection next year had already been hit by millions of dollars in campaign advertising from liberal interest groups, even before the GOP’s measure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) placed him squarely in the national spotlight.

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 Progressive strategist says changing demographics will help Dems MORE (R-Nev.) said Friday that he is unwilling to vote for Senate Republicans’ replacement measure in its current form. The bill would end funding for Nevada’s expanded Medicaid program, which Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), a close Heller ally, opted to accept under ObamaCare.

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Healthcare, environmental and liberal outside groups have spent more than $5.2 million on television advertising aimed at Heller since December, almost two years before he faces reelection.

Advertising data obtained by The Hill show that 19 groups, most of which stand on the liberal side of the political spectrum, have paid for television and radio advertising in recent months. Some of those ads are critical of Heller, while others urge him to oppose Republican proposals to overhaul ObamaCare.

“Tell Sen. Heller ‘Vote no on the healthcare bill,’ ” says one ad paid for by the AARP, which has spent $1.1 million airing broadcast and cable ads in the Las Vegas and Reno media markets.

“Nevadans need Sen. Heller to vote no on healthcare repeal. He’ll be a deciding vote,” says an ad paid for by Save My Care, a group mobilizing against the ObamaCare repeal. The group spent $714,000 in the state’s two main media markets.

Republican operatives acknowledge Heller’s political predicament as the lone GOP senator running for reelection in a state Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIdentity politics and the race for the Democratic nomination O'Rourke’s strategy: Show Americans the real Beto Conservatives pound BuzzFeed, media over Cohen report MORE won in 2016 and the danger he faces of enduring so many attack ads without airing his own response.

But Heller’s team says the attacks are pure politics.

“Five million [dollars] in negative ads from Democrat front groups have nothing to do with public policy — all about stealing a U.S. Senate seat,” said Mike Slanker, Heller’s chief political adviser.

Heller has even been pressured by his own side. In February and March, One Nation, a GOP group with ties to Karl Rove and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDACA recipient claims Trump is holding ‘immigrant youth hostage’ amid quest for wall Former House Republican: Trump will lose the presidency if he backs away from border security Pence quotes MLK in pitch for Trump's immigration proposal MORE (R-Ky.), spent $112,000 to urge Heller to vote to overturn the ACA.

“It’s time to repeal and replace Obamacare. Sen. Dean Heller agrees. He’s fighting for Nevada families,” the ad says. It asks viewers to call Heller’s office to urge him to vote to overturn ObamaCare.

An outside group created to support President Trump’s agenda said last week it would run advertising against Heller after the senator came out against the healthcare overhaul. But America First Policies has not actually purchased advertising time in Nevada yet.

David Damore, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the early attacks are unprecedented. But the pressure on Heller gives the senator an opportunity to demonstrate his effectiveness in Washington, he added.

“If healthcare goes down, he will be able to claim credit for that and make the case that he put Nevada before his party and president,” Damore said. “The worst-case scenario for Heller would be a ‘no’ vote and the bill still passing. He will get pilloried for not doing enough to stop a bad bill that hurts Nevada.”

Heller has also taken fire from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, from environmental groups such as the League of Conservation Voters and the Environmental Defense Action Fund, and from liberal groups like Allied Progress, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Vote Vets PAC — a group with longstanding ties to former Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSenate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees Harry Reid knocks Ocasio-Cortez's tax proposal: Fast 'radical change' doesn't work Overnight Defense: Trump rejects Graham call to end shutdown | Coast Guard on track to miss Tuesday paychecks | Dems eye Trump, Russia probes | Trump talks with Erdogan after making threat to Turkey's economy MORE, also of Nevada.

Heller is likely to face Rep. Jacky Rosen, a freshman Democrat who said last week she will run for Senate, next year. Rosen ran for an open House seat south of Las Vegas in 2016 at Reid’s urging and won.