Politics

Democrats Zero In on Heller as Senate Starts Health Care Votes

‘The attack ads write themselves on this,’ party operative says

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller faced strong criticism by Democrats after his vote Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

By NIELS LESNIEWSKI and BRIDGET BOWMAN

Perhaps no senator has a bigger bull’s-eye on his back after a ‘yes’ vote Tuesday in favor of opening the debate on rolling back the 2010 health care law than Dean Heller of Nevada.

The first-term Republican, who is by most any measure the most vulnerable member of the GOP conference in 2018, faced an immediate barrage of criticism from Democrats in Washington and back in Nevada after Vice President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 tie to start the amendment process that will lead to a vote-a-rama before week’s end without a clear endgame.

Heller emerged from the Capitol shortly after the vote, just as Senate Democrats were attracting most of the attention away from him by also exiting the building en masse to meet with opponents of the health care repeal measure who were gathered on a nearby lawn.

He dismissed the suggestion from Democratic operatives that they will be able to use Tuesday’s vote on the motion to proceed against him next year.

“Oh, this is so far from over. I mean we’re going to have a week full of votes. This will be done by the end of the week. And we’ll see,” Heller said. “I have no doubt that they believe that. At the end of the day, we’ll let this process work itself through.”

Heller was hopeful that the floor debate, no matter how it ends, would finish up on schedule by the end of the week.

“I talked to leadership and that’s what they want to do. I hope they’re right. Let’s put it this way: I’d like to get this behind us,” he said.

But Democrats wasted no time criticizing Heller’s vote.

Heller’s likely Democratic opponent next year, Rep. Jacky Rosen, said in a statement that the vote was “heartless,” “immoral,” and “a slap in the face for Nevada families.”

She also sent out a fundraising email with the subject line “What Dean Heller just did,” urging recipients to give “every dollar you can” to flip Nevada’s Senate seat.

While Tuesday’s vote was a procedural one, Democrats say it shows Heller supports moving on to one of the GOP plans that affects Nevada negatively.

“He owns everything that comes after this,” one Nevada Democratic operative said. “The vote today as a vote to repeal the ACA without a clear plan in place to replace it. I’m not surprised that he was a ‘yes’ today because he’s been a ‘yes’ for the last seven years”

“I think the attack ads write themselves on this,” the operative said.

And some of the ads have already started.

Before the Tuesday vote, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced it was launching radio ads on Pandora this week against Heller and Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, highlighting their past votes to repeal the 2010 health care law.

Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC, also announced Tuesday that it was launching a six-figure digital ad buy in seven key states including Nevada. The ads would focus on the negative consequences of the GOP health care plans.

The Democratic operative in Nevada said Democrats and allied liberal groups could be expected to aggressively confront Heller over the next few weeks, with more ads and calls to his office urging him not to support the GOP health care plans.

Heller is the only Republican senator up for re-election next year in a state won by Democrat Hillary Clinton last fall. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates his race a Toss-Up.

Heller has already faced heat from both Democrats and Republicans as he looks to balance the needs of his state, the Republican promise to repeal the health care law, and the impacts of potential legislation.

And his upcoming health care votes could even fuel a primary challenge from his right. Perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian — who ran unsuccessfully against Rosen in the 3rd District last cycle — has been floated as a potential Heller challenger. 

“This is just a political nightmare for him,” the Democratic operative said.

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