January 20th, 2018

Beyond the Beltway
By Michael Green

A Vlasic Situation

Senator Dean Heller is in a pickle. The Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson health care bill is controversial, but it may be close to the 50 Senate votes needed to repeal significant provisions of Obamacare. Democrats oppose it. So do several governors … including Brian Sandoval of Nevada, who created and expanded several health care programs in Nevada.

The pickle works as follows. Who appointed Heller to the Senate in the first place? Sandoval, who is also a good friend of his. Nationally, commentators are wondering whether John McCain will vote for a bill backed by his best friend in the Senate, Lindsay Graham. A similar question is worth asking in Nevada, and is being asked.

Heller has spent his entire tenure talking about his belief in being “bipartisan.” Sandoval signed a letter calling on the Senate to hold off on Heller’s bill, which has prompted completely partisan responses, to allow negotiations to continue that involve GOP Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray–a bipartisan effort.

Sandoval has coasted to two statewide victories for governor and doesn’t have to run again, and apparently doesn’t plan to run for anything else, either. Heller is in a tough reelection fight in a primary (Danny Tarkanian) and the general election (presumably Jacky Rosen).

But here’s where it gets interesting. Who has more support among Republicans? The rank-and-file who backed Donald Trump for president have been unhappy with Heller’s refusal to endorse him in 2016 and his opposition to an Obamacare repeal attempt in 2017–thus, one of the reasons that Tarkanian, who has run for several offices and lost, poses a serious challenge.

Sandoval has far better popularity numbers in Nevada than Heller, but the question is, with whom? Sandoval engineered the tax increase in the 2015 legislature that has much of the Republican base howling in anguish. Democrats who worked with Sandoval appreciate him. So do conservative and moderate Republicans. Voting against Sandoval’s wishes actually has the potential to help Heller with his base. It may not, but it’s an intriguing possibility.