Democratic machine, not dumping Trump, was key to his 2016 U.S. Senate defeat, Heck says

By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers

The “Democratic turnout machine” was the key to his 2016 U.S. Senate campaign defeat, former U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Henderson, said Tuesday on Nevada Newsmakers.

Heck noted that former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nv., led the statewide campaign organization for Nevada Democrats that year that proved to be very strong.

“The Democratic turnout machine was second to none in the state of Nevada in 2016,” Heck said. “And that is what resulted in our narrow loss. We just didn’t have the (Republican) turnout.”


Besides Cortez Masto’s victory, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also carried Nevada. Three of Nevada’s four U.S. House districts also went to Democrats.

Heck disagreed with a question that his withdrawal of support for presidential candidate Donald Trump, after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape was made public, was the key factor in his loss to Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto.

“Quite honestly, I do not believe that was the factor,” Heck said about pulling support for Trump. “The factor was that there were more than 80,000 more Democrats that turned out in that race than Republicans.”

Veteran Nevadan Journalist Ray Hagar is known for fair and tough reporting and invigorating commentary.

Nevada Democrats had more than a 97,000-voter advantage over Republicans in the November 2016 active voter registration, according to the Secretary of State. There were about 314,000 registered non-partisan voters.

Heck lost to Cortez Masto by 2.4 percentage points or about 27,000 votes.

If he had the 2016 campaign to do over, Heck said there would be little he would change.

“I think I would have concentrated more on trying to increase voter registration and turnout, although we did everything we think we possibly could have, in light of the fact that there really wasn’t a well-organized national (Republican) campaign machinery in the state,” Heck said.

Heck withdrew his support for Trump about a month before election day after the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced with Trump making vulgar comments about women.

Heck was reportedly booed during his Trump announcement and took heat on social media for his withdrawal of support for Trump.

Heck served as Nevada’s U.S. representative in the state’s 3rd U.S. House District from 2007 to 2011 and was a state senator in the Nevada Legislature for one term, beginning in 2004.

The 2018 race for Heck’s old 3rd U.S. House District seat again looks very competitive at the primary- and general-election phases, Heck said.

The 3rd Congressional District Republican primary got another contender last week as Danny Tarkanian switched from his in-progress U.S. Senate campaign to run for the 3rd District seat after urging from the Trump Administration.

Trump’s urging included a tweet from the President calling Tarkanian a “good guy” and saying it would be better for Republican unity for Tarkanian to switch races. The move cleared incumbent GOP Sen. Dean Heller from a potentially costly GOP primary with Tarkanian.

The 3rd District is familiar for Tarkanian. He lost to Democrat Jacky Rosen by just 1.2 percentage points in the 3rd District general election in 2016 (less than 4,000 votes). Rosen will face Heller in the U.S. Senate general-election campaign later this year.

“It is a good move,” Heck said of Tarkanian’s switch. “Certainly, I still believe that Dean (Heller) would have prevailed in the primary and will prevail in the general election.

“I think that Danny probably saw Dean was doing better than he expected and moving over the CD3 made sense for him, having run there before.

“Danny narrowly lost by about one percentage point the last time,” Heck said. “Interesting even though both myself and President Trump won that district. So I’m not sure how that bodes, moving into the next election cycle.”

Heck said the3rd District has a 7,000 active voter edge for Democrats (as of the latest Secretary of State statistics) and about 100,000 non-partisan voters. The non-partisans, “tend to break right,” which gives Republicans “a prime opportunity to take back CD3,” Heck said.

Heck, however, senses a change that may be a disadvantage for the GOP.

“We saw what happened recently with Pennsylvania (district) 18,” Heck said, referring to a slim U.S. House special-election victory for Democrats.

“It seems the Democrats may be more engaged and energized in this election,” Heck said. “And again, with a narrow margin that leans slightly Democrat right now, it can go either way. It can be a very close race.”

Heck seems reluctant to get back into congressional politics.

“I don’t know,” he said when asked if he would run for office again. “I’m enjoying the break. I’ve always enjoyed the policy more than the politics when it came to elected office. And right now, Washington seems to be more consumed with the politics than meaningful policy.”

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