Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2018

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Democrats’ hopes for US Senate control run through Nevada


Steve Marcus

Jacky Rosen, Democratic candidate for Nevada Senate, campaigns during a rally at the Arts District in downtown Las Vegas Friday, Nov. 2, 2018.

A neck-and-neck race in Nevada could be the Democrats' best chance of taking the majority in the U.S. Senate, but for their slight path to victory to run through this battleground state, Republican Dean Heller would have to lose his first election in three decades.

Heller is the only GOP senator seeking another term in a state Hillary Clinton won. He was once a critic of President Donald Trump but is now banking on the president's political power to carry him across the finish line.

Three years ago, the Republican senator returned a campaign donation from Trump, and two years ago Heller told reporters he "vehemently opposed" the billionaire.

Fast-forward to 2018, when Heller appeared at his third Nevada campaign rally with the president and told him, "Everything you touch turns to gold."

His opponent, Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, hasn't been shy about describing the senator's comments as she speaks to Democrats, calling Heller a "rubber stamp" for the president.

In turn, Heller contends Rosen is seeking the job not with decades of delivering results for the state, as he has, but with heavy support from outside liberal groups and Hollywood celebrities.

Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, and Democrats have to defend 10 of their seats and flip two more to take power.

Heller's race is seen as one of Democrats' best chances to swing a race, but the party is also looking on Tuesday to keep two open U.S. House seats near Las Vegas in their column and flip races for Nevada governor and a number of other statewide offices.

Jimmy Kimmel Campaigns For Rosen

Las Vegas native Jimmy Kimmel, late-night talk show host, campaigns with Jacky Rosen, Democratic candidate for Nevada Senate, during a rally at the Arts District in downtown Las Vegas Friday, Nov. 2, 2018. Launch slideshow »

Across the board, Democrats are hoping a "blue wave" fueled by opposition to Trump will push them ahead.

The close race at the top of the ticket has drawn nearly $100 million in campaign spending — with about $33 million being spent by the Rosen and Heller campaigns and an additional $66 million from outside groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The spending has included a barrage of TV ads, including those from Rosen and her supporters that have seized on Heller's sliding positions on GOP efforts last year to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Heller drew backlash from the president and his supporters when he initially refused to vote for Republican plans in Congress to repeal the law passed under President Barack Obama, which has helped 400,000 Nevadans s gain health insurance coverage.

Trump later threatened Heller's re-election chances, and the senator went on to support other attempts to repeal the law.

At a Las Vegas rally on Friday with late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, Rosen called Heller's health care votes the "biggest broken promise in modern Nevada history."

"I'll tell you where he stands, or where he flip-flops. I'm not sure he knows where he stands," she said.

Heller has highlighted Rosen's light track record in the House and her decision to run for his seat after only six months on the job. He's also emphasized the partisan battle over U.S Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanagh, citing his vote for the new justice and Rosen's opposition. He's also pointed out that the bulk of the money Rosen raised has come from people living in New York and California.

"California knows, Hollywood knows, if Jacky Rosen is elected to the U.S. Senate, California will have a third senator," Heller said Monday in an interview on KKOH Radio in Reno.

The senator, who says he's confident Republicans will keep control of the U.S. Senate, has kept his campaign relatively under-the-radar and made few public appearances outside rallies with the president, Vice President Mike Pence and Trump's children Don Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump.

He's been pointing to the improving economy under GOP control as the best reason to vote for him.

"We have a growth economy now we haven't seen in decades," he said. "We're running on that message as strongly as we can."