Trump Nudges Danny Tarkanian Out of Heller Challenge

Frequent candidate will run for the House again

Danny Tarkanian, Republican candidate for several offices over the years in Nevada, poses with a basketball at the Tarkanian Basketball Academy in Las Vegas on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump threw vulnerable Nevada GOP Sen. Dean Heller a lifeline Friday, nudging conservative primary challenger Danny Tarkanian out of that race and into one for a House seat.

It “would be great” if Heller “could run for Senate unopposed!” he wrote in a tweet. Trump urged “good guy” Tarkanian to end his bid to unseat Heller and run for the U.S. House instead.

About an hour later, the son of NCAA hoops coaching legend Jerry Tarkanian announced he would not challenge Heller. Instead, he intends to run in the state’s open race for its 3rd District seat — with the president's endorsement. In 2016, Tarkanian lost an open-seat bid for the same seat to Democrat Jacky Rosen, the third time he lost a bid for Congress. 

In a statement, Tarkanian said Trump and his political team contacted him on Wednesday. They asked him to “consider supporting the America First agenda as a Congressional candidate by running again in CD3, where I nearly won in 2016 in what was one of the most expensive and closest Congressional races in America,” he said.

“This was not something I ever considered,” Tarkanian said. “I am confident I would have won the U.S. Senate race and done a great job representing the people of Nevada in the Senate, but the president is adamant that a unified Republican ticket in Nevada is the best direction for the ‘America First’ movement.

“With President Trump’s full support and endorsement,” Tarkanian said, “I am filing to run again in CD3 with the firm belief that we will finish what we started in 2016 and win in 2018.”

Trump tweeted Heller is “doing a really good job,” and said such a move by Tarkanian would bring “unity.” Tarkanian wasted little time in appeasing the president, who is the head of the Republican Party.

Heller is considered one of the most vulnerable incumbent Republican senators in November’s midterm election. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried the Silver State in 2016 by 2.4 percentage points over Trump.

But Tarkanian, who has unsuccessfully run for a number of state legislature and congressional seats, is considered more conservative than Heller.

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Had he defeated Heller in a primary, Tarkanian might have a hard time defeating a Democratic challenger than the incumbent. And a tough primary battle could have pulled Heller to the right or left him otherwise damaged.

Either outcome might have prevented Republicans from maintaining their majority — and ability to set the agenda — in the Senate. Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales/Roll Call ratings currently has the race for Heller’s seat in the toss-up column.

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