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April 28, 2017

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What Nevada’s newest congressman has to say on Yucca Mountain, immigration and why he won

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L.E. Baskow

Congressman Cresent Hardy and Sen. Dean Heller wave thanks to Nevada Republicans for their fine support at the New Nevada Lounge in the Red Rock Casino on Tuesday, November 4, 2014.

His win was arguably the biggest upset in Nevada's midterm elections.

Despite being underfunded, understaffed and counted out, Republican Cresent Hardy ousted Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford to represent Nevada's 4th Congressional District.

Hardy, an assemblyman and Mesquite native, will join a historic Republican majority in Congress in January that has some big decisions to make on the budget, immigration and its relationship with President Barack Obama.

Here's what Nevada's newest federal lawmaker has to say about his surprise election and how he'd like to spend these next two years in Washington.

On the election few thought he could win

Hardy spent three months poring over poll numbers and registration lists before he decided to say yes to Republican strategist Ryan Erwin's offer to run for the seat.

"If I didn't feel like I really had an opportunity to win, I wouldn't have run," Hardy said in an interview Monday, as he packed his bags for a two-week, nonpartisan new member orientation in Washington.

But Nevada's top Republican donors didn't seem to agree. Hardy struggled to raise money for his bid to unseat Horsford, a rising Democratic star. Instead, his campaign focused its energy on knocking on 25,000 doors in the vast district in North Las Vegas and central Nevada. The 4th District covers nearly half the state at 52,000 square miles.

The fifth-generation Nevadan said once people got to know him, they liked him. Voters were frustrated with congressional gridlock and connected with Hardy's goal to create jobs in rural Nevada.

"I knew it was an uphill battle, but you've got to believe you can do certain things, or you wouldn't do them," Hardy said.

On his priorities in Washington

Continuing his campaign promise to fight for jobs, Hardy said corporate tax reform is his top priority. He'd like to see businesses headquartered in the United States get more tax breaks so they can compete with international companies subsidized by their governments.

He also plans to push for more development on federal and state land in Nevada. That's a constant struggle in Congress, but doing so could give Nevada's economy the boost it needs, he said.

"I want an environment where employers are looking for employees, not employees having to look for employment," he said.

Hardy said he'd like to serve on congressional committees that deal with transportation, agriculture and natural resources.

On his support for Yucca Mountain

Hardy is the first member of Nevada's congressional delegation in decades to publicly say he would support a proposal to store the nation's nuclear waste inside Yucca Mountain, about 90 miles north of Las Vegas.

"If everything is safe, if the science says its safe for transportation, safe for storage, safe for all of the above, then I'm a supporter of it," he said.

That position puts him at odds with members of his own party, such as Republican Sen. Dean Heller, who opposes the project under any circumstance. It also sets him up for a fight with the delegation's most powerful member, Sen. Harry Reid, who has almost single-handedly stopped the project in the Senate.

Hardy's election by the numbers

Cresent Hardy beat Rep. Steven Horsford with 48.5 percent to 45.7 percent of the vote, the closest race in the state's Republican sweep among congressional candidates.

Hardy won every rural county that has some part of the district: Esmeralda, Lincoln, Lyon, Mineral, Nye and White Pine.

He came close to tying Horsford in the district's Democratic stronghold. Horsford beat Hardy in the district's Clark County portions by just a 1,910 vote margin, or a 1.8 percent vote margin.

There's actually more registered Democrats than Republicans in the district. Of the 303,000 voters, about 130,000 are registered Democrats, about 97,000 are Republicans and about 70,000 are Independents or nonpartisans.

Voter turnout in this district was low, at just 43 percent. That reflects a state and national trend this election.

On immigration

This is another issue where Hardy stands out. He supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. For many House Republicans, giving immigrants in the country illegally a chance at citizenship is a nonstarter.

Hardy said America's borders and ports must be secured first. And he opposes any executive action Obama could take granting amnesty to millions of immigrants in the country illegally.

"I'm a constitutional conservative," he said. "… The president has no authority in my opinion to be doing that on his own."

Hardy's views on immigration mostly align with those of fellow Nevada House Republican Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, underscoring the state's unique position as a swing state with a growing Hispanic population. Nevada's Hispanic population is 27.5 percent of the state, compared to 17 percent of the entire nation.

On "that" gaffe

Hardy, who is normally even-keeled, raises his voice when asked about a comment he made on the campaign trail that earned him a heap of criticism.

Hardy said he agreed with Mitt Romney's controversial 47 percent comment. The 2012 Republican presidential nominee was recorded saying about half the country is dependent on the government and therefore feel entitled to welfare.

"Can I say that without getting in trouble like Gov. Romney? The 47 percent is true. It's bigger now," Hardy told donors in September.

Without specifically retracting the statement, Hardy said all politicians make mistakes and he hopes Nevada voters will judge him by his actions more than his words.

"That's easy to catch me on, misplaced words," he said. "I'm not what you call a backslapping politician, and I never will be."

On upcoming debates

Hardy will have plenty of chances to make new headlines for himself these next two years. He's joining a combative Republican Congress that has a lot of big decisions to make in Obama's final two years.

That includes potentially voting to try to repeal Obama's 2010 health care reform law, Obamacare, and setting the budget for the entire federal government. Hardy said he'll take all those issues as they come up, relying on input from his new Republican colleagues to serve Nevadans the best he can.

He'll also continue Horsford's work of helping constituents who find themselves stuck trying to navigate the federal government.

"I want to have the best constituent outreach that's possible to have," he said. "… I want to make sure I'm reaching all parts of this state and all parts of the district."

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