Domestic Taxes

Trump tax law takes center stage in Nevada Senate race

The war over President Trump's tax law is playing out in the Nevada Senate race, where a House Democrat who voted against the measure is challenging the only GOP member of the Senate's tax-writing committee running for reelection this year.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), also the only Republican senator up for reelection in a state Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, has been touting the work he did on the tax law and the strong economy that he links to the measure.

"Because of the tax cut we wrote and passed, small business optimism is surging," he tweeted in late August.

But Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) sees it as a winning issue for herself as she seeks to unseat Heller. Rosen argues the law helps wealthy individuals and corporations rather than the middle class.

Democrats and Nevada political observers claim Heller talks about the tax law less than he did right after it was enacted, which they see as a sign Republicans are on the defense.

"There's a difference between Dean Heller and me on taxes," Rosen said in an ad her campaign recently released. "I support fiscally responsible middle-class tax cuts. Dean Heller voted for the new tax law that gives almost all the benefits to the richest 1 percent and big corporations."

The Nevada contest is one of the most closely watched Senate races this year, because it's one of the few seats that Democrats have a chance of flipping in a year where many Senate Democrats are facing tough reelection battles.

The Nevada race is a must-win for Democrats if they want to have a shot at winning control of the Senate or limiting their net losses. A GOP win would likely help Republicans expand total number of Senate seats they hold.

The stakes are high for both sides and the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race as a toss-up.

In the Senate, Heller serves on the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over taxes. As the tax bill was moving through Congress last fall, Heller worked with his colleagues to increase the size of the child tax credit.

Heller touts his work on the tax law prominently on the issues section of his campaign website. He also has been talking about taxes in the context of touting the booming economy.

In mid-August, he released an ad in which he talked about how the economy has been improving in Nevada and says that Rosen wants "higher taxes, job-killing regulations."

"I like where we're headed. Jacky Rosen doesn't," Heller said.

Heller campaign spokesman Keith Schipper criticized Rosen on the economy.

"This is a pivotal moment for Nevada. Our economy is booming, unemployment is at record lows, and wages are going up," Schipper said in a statement. "We can't afford to turn back the clock now. What Jacky Rosen doesn't understand is the best way to create good jobs and better wages is to create an environment where the private sector can thrive and raise salaries."

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Michael McAdams said that by voting against the tax law, Rosen "made it crystal clear to Nevada voters and businesses that she could care less about their economic well-being."

But Rosen is fighting back on taxes, hitting Heller over his vote for the law.

Rosen campaign spokesman Stewart Boss said that the campaign believes the tax law is a "winning issue" because voters see the measure as designed for corporations and wealthy donors rather than for them.

"I think we're going to continue to hammer that message," he said.

The Rosen campaign and experts on Nevada politics say that Heller's campaigning on the tax law has tapered as time has gone on, and note that national polls find the tax law to be unpopular.

Reuters analysis from May that looked at mentions of the tax law from Heller and a number of vulnerable House Republicans found that Heller mentioned the law the most but that his mentions were significantly lower in April than they were in January.

"The GOP tax scam just reinforces all the things voters don't like about total Republican control of Washington - they're helping their rich and powerful friends, while Americans who actually work for a living pay the price," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman David Bergstein said.

He added that Rosen's new ad on taxes "is a perfect demonstration of how this law has become a major liability for GOP Senate candidates and why they are afraid to run on it."

Jon Ralston, editor of The Nevada Independent and a longtime Nevada political observer, said he expects Heller won't focus much on the tax law in the final weeks of the campaign and instead will spend more of his time trying to define Rosen as someone with little experience.

"I think Heller is going to focus on other things," he said.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas political science professor David Damore said that Rosen's comments on taxes plays into her overall theme that Heller "represents Trump and the 1 percent" and she represents the middle class.

Heller has continued to bring up taxes and the economy in recent months, teaming up with Trump to do so.

In June, Trump came to Nevada and participated in a roundtable on taxes with Heller. The president said Heller "worked so hard with us to get the taxes cut."

GOP strategist Ford O'Connell, who has done political work in Nevada in the past, said voters in the state tend to be supportive of limited taxes and government.

"Taxes and regulations are a no-no in the state of Nevada," O'Connell said. "It's a very frontier mentality." 

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