LAS VEGAS — Most Republicans running for Congress in tossup seats might be distancing themselves from Donald Trump, but Danny Tarkanian is proving the exception.
A perennial candidate now seeking a House seat with a slight Democratic registration advantage, he’s dismissing the notion that the presidential contest is anything other than a binary choice.
“Why would I support Hillary Clinton?” Tarkanian, the Republican nominee in Nevada's 3rd District, said in a recent interview. “There are two people that can be president in 2017. The other two that are on the ballot don’t have a chance.”
Nevada does not have a write-in option. Instead, it offers voters an unusual choice to cast a protest vote for none of the candidates on the ballot. GOP Rep. Joe Heck, whom Tarkanian hopes to succeed in the House, has said he cannot support Trump, but hasn’t made clear exactly what he will do in the voting booth. Heck is running for the state’s Senate seat, left open by retiring Democratic Sen. Harry Reid.
“The question is: do you want Hillary Clinton leading this nation at this most precarious time or would you want Donald Trump?” Tarkanian said. “I made it clear in my statement that I believe both of the candidates have faults, that millions of Americans ... are going to have to make a choice based upon one of those two individuals with their faults. I believe the vision Hillary Clinton has for our country — open borders, one-payer health care system, more dysfunction in Washington, D.C., — the same status quo is the absolute worst direction our country could go.”
One thing Tarkanian doesn’t have to worry about is name ID in his race against Democrat Jacky Rosen, a point all the more obvious as he spoke in his office at the Las Vegas basketball academy that carries the family name.
Candidate Tarkanian’s father, Jerry, the legendary Hall of Fame coach of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Runnin’ Rebels basketball team that won the 1990 NCAA men’s championship, died last year.
Tarkanian offered a familiar GOP platform directed at decreasing regulations that hinder the growth of small businesses and a focus on national security, but he also spoke of the inability to get things done on Capitol Hill as a factor in Trump’s appeal this election season.
“Why Trump quite honestly is doing so well in my district is people are fed up with the dysfunction of Washington, D.C.,” Tarkanian said. “The same status quo where it appears, at least, that the leaders in Washington, D.C., care more about staying in D.C. and being leaders than they do about taking care of the people in their district.”
Rosen, for her part, does not buy Tarkanian’s portrayal of himself as a problem-solver.
“He’s a very extreme, tea-party radical,” Rosen said in an interview of her opponent.
“Danny’s been a professional candidate,” Rosen said. “This is his sixth run for office over the last 10 years, so someone who is dying to do anything for a vote. He stands up with Donald Trump regardless, he won’t want to jeopardize his tea party vote.”
Rosen’s campaign circulated a strategy memo late last week expressing confidence that they will be able to prevail, and Rosen herself discussed internal polling numbers from Global Stategy Group showing her up by 7 points as of mid-October.
“I’m a first-time candidate, so by nature I’m a very positive person, and I’m very optimistic but I take nothing for granted,” she said, touting the skills of the campaign team she assembled with assistance from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Nevada-based political journalist Jon Ralston reported Friday on a National Republican Congressional Committee survey of the district showing Tarkanian leading Rosen by 5 points in a four-way race.
The survey appears to have also asked about the emerging messaging of needing a GOP majority in the House as a counterweight to a potential Hillary Clinton White House.
“If it does look like Donald Trump is going to lose, fully 50 percent of voters indicate they would prefer to have a Republican member of Congress to represent them as a check and balance to Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi,” the polling memo stated.
The race is clearly important to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s effort to maintain his majority and avoid electoral disaster for House Republicans.
But despite backing Trump, Tarkanian said he had no issue with Ryan jettisoning plans to appear with the GOP presidential nominee. He also told Roll Call that Ryan would be fundraising on his behalf.
“I’d rather have him out here campaigning with me than … stumping with Trump somewhere,” Tarkanian said.