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After Trump tweet, Tarkanian exits Senate race to run for House

Updated March 19, 2018 - 10:51 am

Prodding from President Donald Trump compelled Danny Tarkanian to file Friday for a House seat rather than challenge Sen. Dean Heller, an 11th-hour race switch that boosts Heller’s chances for re-election.

And Tarkanian — who spent months throwing jabs at the Republican incumbent — almost didn’t do it.

“Trump’s campaign manager said President Trump would like to have you step out of the Senate race and run for a congressional (House) seat to create party unity, so we have the best chance of winning the elections and supporting the America First agenda,” Tarkanian told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Friday. “I explained to him I thought that was not the right decision and the reasons why. He said he would speak to the president again.”

The phone calls continued into the evening Wednesday. Several more back-and-forth “consultations” ensued, Tarkanian said. Finally, he agreed to abandon his campaign for Senate and make a second run for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District instead.

Tarkanian said Friday he refused to drop out of the Senate race until Trump personally confirmed it was at his request.

Trump fired off an early-morning tweet Friday: “It would be great for the Republican Party of Nevada, and it’s (sic) unity if good guy Danny Tarkanian would run for Congress and Dean Heller, who is doing a really good job, could run for Senate unopposed!”

The move, which leaves Heller with three largely unknown Republican opponents on the June 12 primary ballot, almost guarantees the senator will make it to the November vote.

“When the president of the United States and the leader of your party asks you to do something, you mostly need to do it,” Tarkanian said. “But it wasn’t something I was wanting to do.”

Tarkanian joins a crowded field in the race to replace Rep. Jacky Rosen, who’s leaving her House seat to run for the U.S. Senate. The race has 11 Republicans — including state Sen. Scott Hammond, former television reporter Michelle Mortensen and former Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman — and 23 total candidates.

Rosen defeated Tarkanian by 1.2 percentage points to win her seat in 2016.

Tarkanian’s wife, Amy, was heard saying Friday that her husband’s bid for the Senate brought Heller “closer” to the president.

Heller, who has positioned himself as a Trump ally after initially opposing his presidential campaign, said through a campaign spokesman that he appreciates Trump’s “support and kind words.” Heller’s camp also took a jab at Rosen, saying she spent her time in Congress “doing whatever Nancy Pelosi asks of her.”

Rosen fired back Friday, calling Trump’s involvement in the Senate race a “backroom deal” after Heller cozied up to Trump.

Chuck Muth, a longtime campaign consultant who’s helping Tarkanian, said some of his supporters are disappointed — they wanted him to unseat Heller. Muth added that Tarkanian dropping out at Trump’s request doesn’t make him a “yes man.”

“When he disagrees with the president, he will say so, but he won’t throw the president under the bus,” Muth said. “He’s his own man.”

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter. Contact Ramona Giwargis at rgiwargis@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4538. Follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.

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