By Jim Ellis
Aug. 10, 2017 — Perennial Nevada candidate Danny Tarkanian yesterday announced a US Senate Republican primary challenge to incumbent Dean Heller, creating more chaos in what is the Democrats’ best national conversion opportunity for next year.
Tarkanian released an announcement statement early Tuesday morning declaring himself a candidate. “I am running for United States Senate because Nevada deserves a senator who will keep his word and vote in Washington DC the same way he campaigns here in Nevada,” he wrote, presumably referencing Sen. Heller’s statements about the failed Republican healthcare bill.
But, the senator did vote in favor of the rule bringing the bill for a vote and, in the end, supported what was termed the “skinny repeal” of Obamacare. Though he expressed concern about the bill, Sen. Heller did not ultimately join Republican Sens. John McCain (AZ), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Susan Collins (ME) who formally opposed the legislation.
Published a day before the Tarkanian announcement was a Strategic National political survey (Aug. 1-2; 500 likely Nevada Republican primary voters) that found Tarkanian trailing the senator only 34-38 percent in a proposed GOP primary pairing. Interestingly, the same poll showed 2nd District Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City/Reno), who holds Sen. Heller’s former congressional seat, actually leading the incumbent 27-26 percent among the likely Republican primary voters tested. There is no indication that Amodei is considering entering the Senate race, however.
Danny Tarkanian is the son of the late Hall of Fame college basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, who led the University of Nevada at Las Vegas to a national championship in 1990. Equipped with a famous name in the state, Danny Tarkanian has never been able to convert the asset into political victories.
Though he has proven he can win Republican primaries, as he did for state Senate, Secretary of State, and congressional districts 3 and 4, he failed to win the associated general election each time. The frequent candidate also lost the 2010 US Senate primary. His latest bid, the 2016 open 3rd CD race, ended into a one-point loss to current Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) who has already declared herself as a 2018 Democratic Senate candidate.
Clearly, Tarkanian has enough base support among Republican primary voters to cause Sen. Heller problems. The senator should be able to beat back the Tarkanian challenge, but in doing so he will have to tack right, which could weaken him even further for the general election. He already is running dead even in surveys against Rep. Rosen and Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) in early polling trials.
Though Rep. Rosen could be in position to take major advantage of the Tarkanian development, the new competitive Republican primary actually poses some risk for her, too.
Though Rep. Titus has not declared herself a Senate candidate, as late as two weeks ago she issued a statement indicating she has not ruled out running statewide in 2018. Seeing Heller potentially further weakened in a primary against Tarkanian could generate more serious interest in her entering the Senate campaign. Therefore, the Republican primary challenge could ironically also ignite a major Democratic primary battle, too.
In what was already tagged as one of the most interesting Senate races of the 2018 cycle just became more so with Tuesday’s major development.