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March 24, 2017

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Vulnerable Republican Sen. Dean Heller under mounting pressure

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Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller.

Updated Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017 | 3:57 p.m.

RENO — Sen. Dean Heller is feeling pressure at home as constituents, Democrats and others unhappy with the new Donald Trump administration stage protests and an aggressive campaign to sway the Nevada Republican's votes on presidential appointees and other issues.

A coalition of labor, women, minority, religious and environmental activists planned vigils in Las Vegas and Reno this evening, calling for unity and urging the state's congressional delegation to stand up to what they describe as "American values currently under attack by the Trump administration."

They scheduled the one in Las Vegas outside Heller's office to single out one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans running for re-election in 2018.

"We must remind Heller that if he continues to embrace Trump's destructive agenda, these protests will grow and he will not be returning to the Senate after this term," said Bob Fulkerson, director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada Action Fund, a Reno-based political action committee.

Hundreds of people turned out in Las Vegas and Reno last weekend to protest Trump's travel ban after thousands rallied on both ends of the state for last month's Women's March. Police estimated 10,000 in Reno alone.

"People are engaged and looking for ways to get involved. I think this is only going to continue to get bigger and bigger," Annette Magnus of the Las Vegas-based Battle Born Progress coalition said Thursday.

"Senator Heller needs to listen," added Raquel Cruz-Juarez, an organizer for Planned Parenthood in Nevada, the only key swing state Hillary Clinton carried in November.

Of the eight Republicans up for re-election next year, only Heller's state has a congressional delegation with a Democratic majority. His office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Historically viewed as a moderate, Heller initially backed Jeb Bush for president, then Sen. Marco Rubio. He was among the first Nevada Republicans to publicly denounce Trump's statements about women and immigrants last spring and later told reporters he wouldn't vote for either Trump or Clinton.

Earlier this week, he said that while he supports thorough vetting of individuals entering the country he was "deeply troubled by the appearance of a religious ban."

"The use of an overly broad executive order is not the way to strengthen national security," Heller said.

But so far, he's voted to confirm all Trump's nominees and announced Wednesday he'll back Betsy DeVos for education secretary because she "understands the need to bring back education control to state and local boards."

Nevada Democratic Party Chairwoman Roberta Lange said it proves he's "nothing more than a lazy rubber stamp for Donald Trump's rigged Cabinet."

The Sierra Club was holding out hope Heller would oppose Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, campaign representative Elspeth DiMarzio said Thursday, noting Nevada is home to some of the greatest solar power potential in the country" and Pruitt has "consistently undermined clean energy development."

Heller was appointed to the seat in 2011 to finish the term of GOP Sen. John Ensign. He narrowly defeated Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley in 2012, the only GOP senator to win that year in a state President Barack Obama carried.

"People are focusing on him because he is such a hypocrite," Magnus said. "He wants to try and play both sides."

Heller "bucked party leaders" and championed campaign finance reform as secretary of state in 1995 and was one of few GOP senators who voted for "humane immigration reform" in 2013, Fulkerson said.

"Sadly," he said, "Heller has lost his independent moorings by embracing Trump's abysmally unqualified, far-right nominees like Betsy DeVos."

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