As the 2016 Senate battlefield begins to take shape, Republicans have already picked up a top recruit for Nevada’s open seat in Representative Joe Heck. A doctor and a veteran, Heck enters the race in a strong position to win the seat and solidify the Republican majority in the upper chamber of Congress.
For the last 18 years, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was a top target for Republicans. He escaped by only 428 votes in 1998, and was seen as a sure goner in 2010 only to be faced with a weak candidate named Sharron Angle (Reid won 50 percent of the vote to Angle’s 45 percent).
Reid will not be on the ballot this year, as Nevada’s longest serving senator is calling it quits after 30 years on the job. He won’t be missed – by conservatives, moderates, or anyone who believes in responsible governance, for that matter. This is a good bye if ever there was one.
Yet while Reid is no longer a target, his senate seat will be as it plays a crucial role in keeping a Republican majority in the Senate. The GOP must defend 24 seats in 2016 to the Democrats’ 10. Seven of those Republican seats are in states President Obama won twice: Florida, Illinois, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Meanwhile only two of the Democratic seats are seen as tossups: Colorado and Nevada, both won by Obama twice. To win back the majority, Democrats need to win a net of four seats assuming they retain the White House, and five if they don’t. It’s attainable, but still an uphill battle for them as the GOP has strong incumbents in each of those states minus Florida (Sen. Rubio is not running for reelection but is instead running for President). If Republicans can snag a win in Nevada and flip the seat from blue to red, it makes the Democrats’ task that much harder.
A win for Heck, pictured after his first win in 2010 with wife Lisa, would solidify the Republican majority in the Senate | Photo: AP
Senate Republicans did not get their first choice, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who decided to forego the race and focus on his current job of governing the state. Give Sandoval credit here: unlike many politicians, he decided to do the job he had just been re-elected to do (with over 70 percent of the vote, mind you) and put the needs of his constituents and state over his personal career goals.
That brings us to Rep. Joe Heck, Republican Congressman from Nevada’s 3rd District. If he’s not seen as a first choice, he’s proof of how deep the GOP bench is across the states. He is a doctor. He is a veteran, serving a tour in Iraq with the Army Reserve where he ran emergency medical services to support combat operations. He has won three tough races in a perennial swing district with a sizable Latino (15.4 percent) and Asian (11.8 percent) population. That’s background, electability, and experience packed into one candidate. By all standards he is a top tier recruit.
He will face Catherine Cortez Masto, a former Nevada Attorney General and Reid’s handpicked successor (Reid apparently hates letting voters in his own party decide who is their best candidate; he endorsed her before she had even announced). Because Democrats prioritize identity politics, they believe they have the upper hand with a Latina candidate in a state that is 27.1% Latino (well above the national average) and with Hillary Clinton likely atop the ticket. To be sure, voter turnout in presidential years has favored Democrats the past few election cycles. But what will really matter to Nevadan voters is the candidates’ message and focus on solutions.
Yet Heck is already off to a fast start. A new poll from the Chamber of Commerce shows that Heck already leads Cortez Masto 50 percent to 36 percent. It’s still early, but to already be at the magical 50 percent bodes well for Heck and gives Cortez Masto a steep uphill race from the beginning.
Heck has fought this battle before. In 2012, he won by 20,000 votes (50 percent to his opponents 43 percent) while Obama received 2,000 more votes than Mitt Romney in the same district, making Heck one of only 17 Republicans to win in a district carried by Obama that year. One isn’t able to win over that many swing voters without presenting a clear, positive vision.
Indeed, Heck has been focused on solutions during his time in the House. Last year, he introduced the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which would streamline workforce-training programs and give local employers more input and control, rather than the federal government. He’s also introduced legislation that would make it easier for foreign tourists to receive travel visas, which, in a state dominated by tourist-destination Las Vegas, would greatly help spur economic growth and create jobs for his constituents.
This commitment to a positive message and solutions-oriented tenure in Congress has earned Heck his constituents’ trust and they have rewarded him with their votes. If he continues this kind of campaign in 2016, he’ll be well positioned to score a win for the GOP and the people of Nevada.
Gillum Ferguson is Deputy Editor of Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @GillumFerguson.