U.S. Sen. Dean Heller is banking on low voter turnout as his path to victory this November.
“We now have less than 60,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. Let me be more clear. If we can get that number below 50,000, I can’t lose,” Heller said Tuesday in Las Vegas, according to audio obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I can’t lose. Because the ratio of voter turnout in a non-presidential year — we’re in a non-presidential year — the tendency of Republicans to vote is higher than the other party.”
The audio comes from the Tuesday luncheon at the Nevada Republican Men’s club, an event that has historically been open to the press but which barred the media for Heller’s appearance due to “an issue of space,” the club’s president Pauline Ng Lee told a Review-Journal reporter.
Heller issued a dire warning for Republicans to the room of business leaders and elected officials.
“If we have 100,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state of Nevada or more, I can’t win,” Heller said. “Let me say that again, if we have 100,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state of Nevada, I can’t win. (Republican Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Adam) Laxalt can’t win.”
Numbers released this week by the Nevada secretary of state’s office show Democrats outnumbering Republicans in the Silver State by about 59,000. That’s down significantly from 2016, when the Democrats’ lead was nearly 90,000.
In the last month alone, that gap shrunk by roughly 14,000 after the office of Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske — who attended Heller’s talk — which moved about 75,000 voters from the active to inactive rolls last month as part of what the office called routine voter list maintenance “as required by federal and state voting rights laws.”
Being on the inactive list does not prevent a person from voting.
During the 30-minute speech and Q & A, Heller promised to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — a position that he has waffled on several times in the last 10 months — predicted that Yucca Mountain would come to Nevada if he were to lose in November, said that Congress needs to find “relief for DACA recipients,” and heaped the praise onto President Donald Trump and his administration, a cozying up that comes just weeks after the president cleared the primary field for Heller’s re-election bid.
“If we have 51 Republicans that will vote to repeal and replace, it will happen,” Heller said when asked about the future of Obamacare, the common name for the Affordable Care Act.
Heller said three of his fellow GOP senators are the reason why repeal hasn’t happened.
“We need 51 votes votes. And right now we know there’s three votes we’re missing for that 51: John McCain, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski,” Heller said.
But Heller’s own stance on repealing the ACA is anything but straightforward. He came under fire last summer when congressional Republicans tried to make good on their longtime promise to repeal President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law.
The vulnerable senator found himself stuck between his state’s popular Republican governor in Brian Sandoval — who was the first GOP governor to embrace expanded Medicaid — and President Donald Trump, who jabbed that Heller would fall in line because “he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?”
When it came time to cast votes last year, Heller went against the full repeal bill, but voted in favor of a “skinny repeal,” a trimmed down repeal plan that failed after McCain, Collins and Murkowski voted against it.
Expanding the majority
But Heller predicted that Republicans will pick up a handful of Senate seats in the midterm elections, and that would be the path to fulfilling that long-held promise of a repeal.
“I think at the end of the day we end up with 53, 54 seats,” Heller said. “If we can do that, then we can repeal and replace and change the ACA as we know it today.”
Heller was not among the original supporters of Trump, and was especially critical of then-candidate Trump during the 2016 campaign season.
But in recent months, the vulnerable senator has cozied up to the president and his priorities — a move that seems to have been rewarded when Trump convinced Danny Tarkanian to drop his bid in challenging Heller in the Republican primary and instead run for an open U.S. House seat, leaving Heller free to focus on Democratic U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen, his likely general election opponent.
And Heller sang the praises of the Trump administration during the luncheon, highlighting the reduction in the corporate tax rate 35 to 21 percent and the confirmation of conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch as well as dozens of other conservative judges to federal bench seats.
“I think this country is headed in the right direction,” Heller said.