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Dennis Myers: Trump complicates Heller’s Nevada race for Senate

A month after the primary neither Democrat Jacky Rosen or Republican Dean Heller has built a stable lead in the U.S. Senate race.

It probably doesn’t help Rosen that she sends out incessant mailings portraying her as an underdog and as underfunded. Those are longstanding and useful political tactics, but Rosen has been so relentless with those themes it sounds like she is not a competent campaigner, particularly now that she is the Democratic nominee and needs to show greater command.

“After Donald Trump came to town last month to fundraise for Senator Dean Heller, his campaign had their best quarterly fundraising haul – EVER,” Rosen wrote in a mailing last weekend. “Can you chip in $5 now to fight back?” She neglected to mention that on the same day Trump campaigned in the south for Heller, Sen. Elizabeth Warren campaigned north and south for Rosen.

Rosen has less than a two percent margin over Heller in most surveys, but that is probably misleading. Turnout is everything for Rosen, and a Wall Street Journal poll shows that 63 percent of Democrats are looking forward to voting in the November election, but only 47 percent of Republicans are. If that holds, Rosen has already won.

The cliché of 2018 in Nevada politics is the notion that Heller is the “most vulnerable” sitting senator running for re-election. Recently, political talk show host Sam Shad said that whenever he hears that, he thinks to himself, “Hmm. Which election did he lose so far?” He has a point. Heller was elected to two terms in the Nevada Assembly, three terms as secretary of state, four terms in the U.S. House, one term in the U.S. Senate, plus all the primaries in those races.

Besides, people are always calling Nevada U.S. Senate candidates the “most vulnerable” for one side or the other. “Sen. Harry Reid [is] perhaps the most vulnerable Democrat” said the Wall Street Journal of the 2010 race Reid won easily. “Heller’s [Senate seat] is among the most vulnerable,” reported the Associated Press in 2012. He won. In 2016, New York magazine said “one lonely Democratic seat that is deemed vulnerable [is] Nevada.” Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto won, anyway.

Last year, Heller bucked Trump on national health care, allying with Gov. Brian Sandoval. That would have helped Heller this fall. In that Wall Street Journal survey a plurality of voters (48 percent) wanted congressional candidates who will restrain Trump and a majority (53 percent) said they are less likely to vote for candidates who support Trump on most issues.

But after being threatened publicly by Trump on July 19 last year, Heller for some reason switched to embracing Trump, making it extremely difficult now to appear independent of a very unpopular figure.

Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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