Mr. Tarkanian — the son of Jerry Tarkanian, the legendary former Nevada college basketball coach — fiercely criticized Mr. Heller, calling him the personification of a wavering politician.
“He has no convictions, he doesn’t stand by his word,” Mr. Tarkanian said in an interview, citing the health care bill, federal funding for Planned Parenthood and illegal immigration.
And he said Mr. Heller would pay the price with conservative Nevada voters for refusing to back President Trump in last year’s campaign.
Incumbent: Republican Sen. Dean Heller
It's one of the earliest races to take shape -- and it's all bad news for Heller.
Danny Tarkanian, who has lost five campaigns over the last decade but won the GOP nomination in four of those five races, is taking on Heller in the Republican primary.
The Daily Caller: EXCLUSIVE: Poll Shows Nevada’s Dean Heller Vulnerable In GOP Primary
Head to head versus Tarkanian, Heller received 38 percent to Tarkanian’s 34 percent, within the margin of error. 27 percent said they were undecided between the two.
Yob, who has consulted for Republican candidates in Nevada, said that it would be “almost inconceivable” that Heller could survive a primary challenger if his approval rating remains at 31 percent. “The undecided voters usually break towards the challenger and if that happens in this potential race it wouldn’t even be close,” Yob said.
Speculation is growing that President Trump will buck his own party and back primary challengers to two incumbent GOP senators seeking reelection in 2018, an exceedingly rare event that would deepen divisions within a party that is already struggling to govern despite controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress.
Talking Points Memo: Trump-McConnell Feud Threatens GOP’s 2018 Senate Prospects
Heller, on the other hand, has awkwardly danced all over the place on Trump and his top priorities, trying to please everyone and infuriating voters left and right in the process. After saying he wouldn’t back the Obamacare repeal bill crafted by McConnell and demanded by Trump, Heller voted to move forward on that legislation, irritating just about everyone in his home state. Earlier this week, businessman Danny Tarkanian, who has run (and lost) many races in the state before, launched a bid against Heller, slamming him for not carrying more of the president’s water.
Both senators are still favorites to win their primaries — and both the NRSC and the Senate Leadership Fund, a well-funded super-PAC run by former McConnell staffers, are ready to go to war for them. But divisive, nasty primaries could wound them both as they head into already-tough general elections. Trump allies say he’s at least as angry at the pair as the Democrats who have so far thwarted his legislative agenda.
“The president spotlighting Heller and Flake is an example of why he came here to Washington, D.C.: To disrupt the status quo. He sees a culture of empty promises,” a strategist close to the White House told TPM. “He gets frustrated when he sees Republicans who have benefited from these promises break those promises. … The president’s going to hold them accountable.”
On the same day a Republican challenger jumped in the race against Sen. Dean Heller, dozens of mostly Democratic protesters rallied outside his Reno office to denounce his latest position on health care.
"I really feel sorry for Dean. He's trying to present some sort of unified approach when you have a party that is at war with itself," said Randi Thompson, a longtime Republican consultant in Reno.
Heller is taking Tarkanian seriously. Oftentimes, incumbents will ignore primary challengers. But Tarkanian’s high name identification from his repeated runs for office (and from his famous father and his own collegiate basketball career) make that impossible.
Still, Tarkanian’s multiple campaigns, while unsuccessful, have made him a well-known name in Nevada politics. If nothing else, his presence in the race could force Heller to divert resources and push the senator into more conservative positions than might be advisable in the Democratic-leaning state.
Heller already faced an uphill battle to retain his Senate seat. The moderate Republican has seen his approval ratings plummet in recent weeks after enduring an onslaught of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans over his flip-flopping stance on the efforts in Congress to undo the Affordable Care Act.
It sets up what will no doubt be an expensive and bruising primary.
Conservatives say Tarkanian will be up to the challenge. “Now we have a legitimate candidate with name recognition that can raise money statewide. Danny Tarkanian will be a tough test for Dean Heller,” says 790 Talk Now’s Kevin Wall.
KLAS Las Vegas: GOP leader discusses battle brewing between Heller and Tarkanian
But, McDonald also knows a battle is brewing. Tarkanian's bid for Heller's seat could turn out to be a vicious fight before the general election.
Why? Heller's seat is shaping up to be the most hotly-contested Senate seat in the country.
Las Vegas Review-Journal: Danny Tarkanian to run for US Senate seat held by Dean Heller
Tough primary ahead
Tarkanian’s announcement sets up a tough primary battle with Heller, who has faced recent pressure from both Democrat and Republican groups. U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen, a Democrat, also wants the seat.
Heller was considered vulnerable before Tarkanian announced his intentions, partly due to the Senate’s failed attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.
The Nevada Independent: Tarkanian announces bid for U.S. Senate, says will challenge Heller in Republican primary in 2018
“The reason people are so upset at politicians today is because they promise one thing when they’re running for office, and once they get elected do the exact opposite,” he said. “People don’t feel they can trust politicians any more, and I think Dean Heller is a poster boy of that type of politician.”
Las Vegas Review-Journal: Wayne Allyn Root: It’s time for the Donald Trump loyalty test
Here’s Part II of the loyalty test for President Trump: Endorse Danny Tarkanian for U.S. Senate. It’s time for the president to break with GOP protocol.
Dean Heller betrayed you, Mr. President. He ruined the signature issue in your victorious, against-all-odds, presidential campaign. Heller committed fraud, misrepresentation and false advertising to get elected. He stabbed us all in the back.
He is “One and Done Dean.”
Elko Daily Free Press: Chuck Muth: GOP mission to save Sen. Heller from the Tarkanian at the gate
Team Heller is clearly terrified of the Tarkanian at the Gate, as the all-out Saving Senator Heller propaganda campaign clearly shows. And they should be.
Gentlemen, start your engines…
Senator Heller suffers from acute self-aggrandizing political ambition that manifests itself most often in fence-sitting and at best avid periodic grinding of the issues one might expect to be the grist in the windmill of a crusading freshman Congressman.
The Nevada senator's torturous rendezvous with health care politics isn't over. Of the 17 counties listed in the latest Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service map that might have no Affordable Care Act insurers at all next year, 14 were in — you guessed it — Nevada.
Heller — up for re-election next year — is just two weeks removed from the debacle of the GOP's health care bill, where he started as an opponent but ended up not taking much of a firm stance on anything.
What's next: Nevada is a purple state that went for Hillary Clinton, and two different former GOP Senate aides told me without hesitation that Heller should make sure he's part of any individual market stabilization effort. But Heller has a primary opponent from the right, and it's already become a given that he misplayed his hand over the last few months.
Wall Street Journal: Nevada Senator Faces Challenge in 2018 GOP Senate Primary
Sen. Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican up for re-election in 2018 who has been whipsawed by the politics of Congress’s health-care debate, has drawn a conservative primary opponent promising to be a more reliable ally for President Donald Trump.
New York Magazine: Nevada Senator Dean Heller Draws 2018 Primary Challenger
There may be no politician who has emerged more badly wounded from the failed effort to repeal Obamacare than Nevada senator Dean Heller. And now he has a primary challenger to add to his mounting woes.
Tarkanian’s challenge is yet another sign of the deepening faultlines inside a Republican party still grappling with the election of Trump, who continues to flout core pillars of conservative ideology and yet remains fiercely popular among the coalition of working-class voters now crucial to their base.