Joe Heck Keeps His Distance From Presidential Caucus in Nevada

While Heck has avoided making waves in the presidential race, Cortez Masto, his Democratic opponent, hit the trail for Clinton's presidential campaign. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In Nevada and New Hampshire, two Senate battleground states that also have early presidential preference contests, Democratic candidates endorsed and served as as surrogates for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign.  

Catherine Cortez Masto, the Nevada Democrat who Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid wants to take his seat, attended get-out-the-vote events aimed at women and Latinos.  

But while she and some other Democrats have stuck out their necks, Republican candidates have stayed on the sidelines as GOP presidential contenders battle on an uncertain path to the Cleveland convention. Ahead of Tuesday's Nevada Republican presidential caucuses, Rep. Joe Heck, the top Republican Senate candidate, was not in the state on Monday and did not plan to be there on Tuesday, either. His office said he was on the East Coast as Congress begins to trickle back from the Presidents Day recess.  

Ryan Erwin, the former executive director of the Nevada Republican Party and the top strategist on Heck’s campaign, said Heck’s approach in the race was a focused one: “Keep your head down and get the job done.”  

“We need to work with whoever the nominee is. We have enough to do to win this race than to get neck-deep in other politics,” he said. “It’s a race that has shifted so many times. For us to worry about how that shift might impact the electorate in our race doesn’t make sense.”  

Unlike Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, who endorsed Marco Rubio, or Ohio's Rob Portman, who endorsed his home state governor John Kasich, despite being locked in tough races , Heck has adopted the approach of New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, staying quiet as the presidential circus went through town.  

Heck, who could still face a Republican challenger, is walking a fine line in trying to placate the conservative base while keeping an eye on a general election electorate whose support would be harder to earn on a GOP ticket headlined by a candidate such as Donald Trump.  

His posture comes amid renewed talk that Sharron Angle, the conservative firebrand who unsuccessfully took on Reid in 2010, is considering mounting a challenge from the right. Heck's campaign said it would not entertain talk of a primary challenger ahead of the March 18 filing deadline, but some Republican operatives supporting his candidacy said they do not view the notion of her candidacy as serious.  

Cortez Masto endorsed Clinton just nine days before the caucus, but like New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, the Democrat challenging Ayotte,  she went all in with her support.  

Before last weekend's Nevada Democratic caucuses, some Republicans had suggested that Clinton's fate would be a test of Reid’s organizational strength, even though he chose not to endorse a candidate. A failure of his organization, the thinking went, would be bad news for Cortez Masto. But that turned out to not be the case, and Clinton won the state.  

Noting Heck's absence, Cortez Masto on Monday took a victory lap.

"Nevadans fought hard for our early state status on the presidential nominating calendar, and it’s a shame Congressman Heck will not help protect that by participating in the Republican caucuses tomorrow evening," she said in a statement Monday afternoon. "I was proud to participate in the Democratic caucuses this last Saturday because I believe Nevadans deserve a say in selecting the nominees to be our next President."

The Nevada Senate race is rated Tossup by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call.

Jason Dick contributed to this report from Las Vegas. 

Contact Yokley at EliYokley@RollCall.com and on Twitter @EYokley

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