Sunday, Feb. 24, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Republican Rep. Dean Heller of Nevada and Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, align with different wings of their party — which is why you can expect to see them campaigning together in Nevada this fall.
Eric Herzik, chairman of the political science department at UNR, says standing by Heller’s side would be good for McCain. And what’s good for McCain becomes good for Heller.
Heller faces a tough reelection challenge from Democrat Jill Derby. As one of the state’s more conservative lawmakers, he could use McCain’s appeal among moderates and independents.
McCain, in turn, could use Heller to shore up his conservative credentials among the state’s Republican base.
These voters haven’t forgotten that McCain voted against President Bush’s tax cuts or that he tried to put illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship. If those voters stay home on Election Day because they aren’t moved by McCain, both men suffer at the polls.
McCain faces other obstacles in the state. As a supporter of opening Yucca Mountain to house nuclear waste and an opponent to betting on college sports, he is on the wrong side of two Nevada issues. Will voters overlook those positions, as they did when they elected Bush twice despite his advocacy of a Yucca dump?
“Republicans are going to unite behind a nominee that stands for lower taxes, fiscal responsibility and strong national defense,” Paul Lindsay of the Republican National Committee said Friday. “These are the issues that resonate with voters of Nevada, and they stand in stark contrast to the liberal anti-growth agenda of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.”
The McCain factor is more complicated for Nevada’s other Republican representative, Jon Porter. Porter faces an even stronger challenge this year because his district now has more registered Democrats than Republicans.
Porter was an early backer of Rudy Giuliani, but now plans to support McCain. The congressman “has not explicitly come out in support of McCain, but will do so shortly,” Porter spokesman Matt Leffingwell said. “The congressman certainly will support the Republican nominee and campaign with the nominee.”
What Porter needs most from McCain is the senator’s ability to attract independents, who historically have gone Porter’s way.
Yet this year, independents nationwide have run out of patience with the war in Iraq, polls show. Porter has been an unwavering supporter of the war, and McCain has suggested that troops could remain in Iraq for 100 years. David Wasserman, who studies House races for The Cook Political Report in Washington, said Porter’s coming support of McCain is “something he probably wants to downplay.”
Republican Sen. John Ensign, who had been neutral in the race, now says he enthusiastically supports McCain’s bid.
Although Ensign is not up for reelection this fall, he has plenty of interest in the effect McCain will have on down-ticket races as chairman of the committee electing Republicans to the Senate. Ensign declined to comment further on his endorsement, but in an earlier statement praised McCain for having “a conservative record of fiscal discipline and strong national defense of which Republicans can be proud.”
Wasserman cautions that, ultimately, it is too early to predict McCain’s influence in Nevada races. A lot can happen between now and November, he said.