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Former senator Heller expected to join GOP race for governor

Updated September 15, 2021 - 3:16 pm

CARSON CITY — Former GOP Sen. Dean Heller is expected to declare his candidacy for governor at a “special announcement” scheduled for Monday at the local GOP party headquarters in the state capital.

Heller, whose candidacy has been anticipated, would join a crowded GOP field as the likely front-runner to challenge Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak next year based on his experience and name recognition. Heller has stayed mum on his plans with the media, but made appearances at GOP events in Northern Nevada in June where he indicated to attendees he was exploring a run.

Other announced GOP candidates include Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, Reno attorney Joey Gilbert, and businessmen Guy Nohra.

Heller, 61, served two terms as an assemblyman representing Carson City, three terms as secretary of state, and two terms in the House of Representatives before he was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2011 by Gov. Brian Sandoval when incumbent John Ensign resigned in the wake of an extramarital affair. Heller won the Senate seat in 2012, defeating then-Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, but lost his 2018 bid for re-election to Democrat Jacky Rosen.

Heller navigated a difficult relationship with former President Donald Trump, initially as a vocal critic but later as an ally for whom Trump campaigned in 2018. After his loss, Trump said Heller lost because he didn’t excite voters and had been “extraordinarily hostile” to the president during the 2016 election, alienating conservatives.

Viewed as a moderate Republican, Heller’s website touts his bipartisan credentials in the Senate.

The Monday announcement in Carson City is scheduled for 8 a.m.

“It will be a packed room. It will be overflowing,” said Carson City Republican Party Chair Scott Hoen. He declined to disclose the substance of Heller’s announcement but noted the former senator’s ties to the capital city, where he grew up.

“He just wanted to a make the announcement here,” Hoen said.

Though a formal announcement is still days away, Heller’s candidacy has been all but a certainty and state Democrats were quick to pounce Wednesday, chastising him in a statement for “caving to his base” in 2018 and laying low since that defeat.

“Dean Heller is entering a civil war, but let’s be clear – he’s going into battle for himself, not Nevadans,” said Nevada Democratic Victory spokesperson Mallory Payne. “Now, after bunkering down for the last two years, he’ll have to survive a crowded and expensive primary.”

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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