By Jonathan Swan
December 22, 2015
Rep. Joe Heck, who Republicans hope can win retiring Sen. Harry Reid’s Senate seat for their party, is running away from two of his party’s leading presidential candidates.
Heck rejects Donald Trump’s calls to build a wall on the border with Mexico and to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States.
He declined to say whether he’d back Trump if the front-runner wins the nomination.
“You can’t say you’re going to, you know, take 1.6 billion people and stereotype them,” Heck said in an interview with The Hill held as Trump and other GOP candidates visited this city for their fifth presidential debate.
Separately, he said he has little time for the “show horse” tactics of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is leading GOP polls in Iowa.
“Well, you know there’s workhorses and show horses. I consider myself a workhorse,” Heck said of the Texan who many Republicans accuse of glorifying himself through his role in the 2013 government shutdown and similar attempt earlier this year.
“I don’t think it’s the place of somebody in the Senate to try to influence what is happening in the House,” said Heck, who hasn’t made an endorsement in the GOP race.
Heck’s decision to distance himself from Trump and Cruz comes as Democrats in Nevada are already planning to link the Republican lawmaker to Trump.
The Senate Majority PAC -- the main outside money group for Senate Democrats, controlled by Reid's Nevada operatives -- is in discussions about running ads tying Heck to Trump’s most extreme positions, said a source familiar with the group’s strategy.
Many Republicans believe that if Trump wins the party’s nomination, he will lead the GOP to a crushing defeat in the fall that will cost Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) his Senate majority.
“Donald Trump loses in a run and quite frankly we're likely, Republicans are likely to lose the U.S. Senate,” Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) recently told Fox News 6 in Wisconsin.
Some Republicans also think Cruz could have a negative effect down the ballot, especially in some of the most contested states.
The GOP is defending 24 Republican seats next year compared to 10 for Democrats, creating a tough cycle for Republicans. Many of the GOP seats are in states won by President Obama in the last two presidential elections, including Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio and Florida.
Obama also won Nevada twice, putting pressure on Heck as he sets to battle Reid’s hand-picked successor, former attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto (D). Analysts consider the swing seat too close to call between Heck and Cortez Masto.
Heck was reserved with his comments, but clearly shares some of these concerns.
“I’m originally a New Yorker; I have followed Donald Trump from his original days in New York City and there have always been things that he has said that cause me to take pause or cringe,” Heck said.
He’s not sure Trump or Cruz could win a general election race.
“I think there are a lot of angry, frustrated people across the country, and someone who can tap into that anger and frustration will naturally rise to the top, at least in the polls,” Heck said.
“Whether or not that translates into votes next November remains to be seen.”
Heck highlighted his ability to work across party lines during the discussion about Cruz, who boasts of his uncompromising stands against Democrats and Republican leadership. Heck proudly notes that he ranked 29th in the Lugar Bipartisan Index that scores members of Congress on how often they work across party lines.
Heck supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants but opposes Obama’s executive actions and wants the U.S. to freeze its refugee intake from all countries until the vetting process improves.
Heck was one of only 11 Republicans to vote against a bill that would have frozen funding for the Obama Administration's executive actions on illegal immigration.
At the time, he said he didn’t agree with Obama’s decision to go around Congress with the executive actions, but “I cannot in good conscience vote to close the door on those individuals who have been given the opportunity to make a life for themselves in the only country they have ever known.”
He favors unleashing the U.S. military to destroy ISIS — and is open to larger ground troop deployments — but says the U.S. needs to stop toppling Middle Eastern dictators including Syria’s Bashar Assad.
Iraq, he says, was a mistake. And so was Libya.
Heck also says he wants to strengthen Social Security despite Democrats attacking him for once calling it a “pyramid scheme.”
Heck will be well funded.
Conservative donors across the country are already sending his campaign checks, and many of these donors are connected to the powerful network helmed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.
Reflecting the importance of this seat, the National Republican Senatorial Committee ran three new TV ads in Nevada during last week's debate targeting Cortez Masto over her tenure as attorney general and her national security views.
Democrats are emotionally invested in this race and see it as crucial to preserving Reid’s legacy. Reid and his top lieutenant Rebecca Lambe have painstakingly built the Nevada Democratic Party into a national force and were responsible for moving the caucuses to their prized early position. There are genuine fears among sources familiar with Reid’s operation that this valuable infrastructure could be severely damaged if the Democrats lose this seat.
Besides tying Heck to his party’s standard-bearer, Democrats are sure to portray the Republican as more extreme than his reasonable demeanor suggests.
Heck, who is in his third term in Congress, says he is ready for those attacks, noting they’ve been used against him in the past.
His centrist record is reflected by his 52 percent score by the right-wing group Heritage Action, in their ratings of members' legislative records from most to least conservative. Cruz scores 100 percent.
“They always like to say, 'well he says one thing and does another,' but my vote history is clearly consistent with what I say,” Heck said.
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