Nevada was an easy victory in the early campaign months for Donald Trump as the billionaire businessman and reality television star started stacking up the wins he needed to become the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee.
Now, Trump is the only Republican candidate left.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s announcement on Wednesday to exit the race cleared the way for Trump, less than 24 hours after U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas dropped out.
But for Republicans running in other Silver State races, Trump’s dominant lead in the presidential race adds another layer of complication:
Do they enthusiastically support the man who is now their party’s inevitable nominee for president?
Or do they reject him, hoping to pick up voters who are turned off by his bombastic statements and controversial comments about women, immigrants in the country illegally and others?
On Wednesday, campaigns of two Nevada Republicans — U.S. Rep. Joe Heck and U.S. Rep. Cresent Hardy — gave measured, carefully-worded statements promising to support Trump. Neither statement mentioned Trump directly by name, a sign of the political tightrope that Republicans are already walking.
Nevada Democrats, meanwhile, simultaneously sprang into action Wednesday, delighted to tie Trump’s statements to any Republican candidate who gives even the smallest gesture of support.
The stakes are high in Nevada. Heck is running for the open U.S. Senate seat of outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. It’s one of the few Senate seats that Republicans could flip to the GOP side.
Hardy, a first-term congressman, is running for re-election in the 4th Congressional District. Democrats, who have a voter registration edge in the district, hope to pick up the seat.
“Congressman Hardy has said from the beginning that he will support whoever the nominee is,” Hardy campaign spokesman Ross Hemminger said. “He is focused on serving the people of the 4th District in his campaign here in Nevada.”
Heck’s campaign spokesman, Brian Baluta, said: “Dr. Joe Heck will support the Republican nominee and he will continue to focus on his own campaign, reaching out to all Nevadans to convince them that when it comes to jobs, the economy, national security, health care and education, he is by far the most qualified candidate to be their voice in the U.S. Senate.”
Both Heck and Hardy were unavailable for interviews.
Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval had endorsed Kasich in April after Trump won the Nevada caucuses in February.
In a Facebook statement, Sandoval said he has a “tremendous amount of respect” for Kasich.
“Now that he has dropped out of the race, I plan to vote for the presumptive nominee although it is no secret that we do not agree on every issue,” Sandoval said. “Elections are about making choices and the Democratic nominee is simply not an option.”
Sandoval was asked about his support of Trump, given the candidate’s disparaging remarks about women and immigrants, who make a large portion of Nevada’s population.
“With regard to what you just described, we disagree on a lot of things and that is one of them,” Sandoval told the Review-Journal on Wednesday.
“I’m hopeful that in the future that he’ll change his position with regard to those statements.”
The Nevada State Democratic Party reacted with a tongue-in-cheek letter inviting Trump to the state.
Signed by state party Chairwoman Roberta Lange, the letter to Trump highlighted Nevada’s role as a battleground state, including congressional races and the open Senate seat that Reid is vacating.
Lange wrote that Democrats are in “strong position to win” those races, adding, “But we’re eager to see just how big of an albatross you can be for down-ballot Republicans.”
Pointing to prominent GOP candidates supporting Trump, including Heck and Hardy, Lange wrote: “So Nevada Republicans are sure to welcome you here with open arms.”
She added: “Unlike the Republicans, Democrats are actually going to hold you accountable. And we know for a fact your racist, misogynistic, anti-immigrant rhetoric will inspire even more of our supporters to get involved and elect Democrats.”
‘SHOULD BE NERVOUS’
For Republicans on Nevada’s election ballot, the prospect of Trump as the GOP’s presidential nominee is cause for angst, University of Nevada, Reno political scientist Eric Herzik said Wednesday.
“Absolutely they should be nervous,” Herzik said.
“It forces down-ballot candidates to make a decision on, ‘Are you going to support Donald Trump?’ And that in itself can be problematic.”
Heck, who is trying to flip Reid’s Senate seat from blue to red, perhaps has the most cause to fret.
Trump has alienated immigrants, women and Latinos, a growing and powerful voting force in Nevada.
“If Joe Heck has to come out and say, ‘Yea, I back Donald Trump,’ then when Trump goes off on illegal immigrants and Mexican criminals, it comes back on him,” Herzik said.
“In Nevada, you always hear about the Latino vote, the sleeping giant,” he said. “I have never seen Latinos mobilized this early.”
Trump, Herzik predicted, is “going to get killed in that demographic.”
“And if that demographic turns out in higher numbers, that’s problematic for Trump and everybody down ticket.”
Democrats, in contrast, will have two women at the top of the Nevada ticket — one of whom is a Latina. Hillary Clinton is the likely Democratic presidential nominee and former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is running against Heck in the Senate race.
“The people who don’t like Hillary Clinton would never vote for Hillary Clinton,” Herzik said. “But Donald Trump has energized a whole bunch of people who don’t like him.”