The Slatest

Democrats Finally Oust a GOP Senator as Dean Heller Loses in Nevada

Jacky Rosen.
Jacky Rosen.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

In a political career dating back to 1990, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller had gone a perfect 15–0 in elections (including primaries), winning many of them narrowly.

But after Tuesday night, he will be 15–1, losing his Senate race to Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen. The call arrived almost immediately after the early vote dump from Clark County (i.e., Las Vegas) showed an overwhelming Democratic advantage. Between that and her lead in Washoe County (Reno), there weren’t enough rural voters left to make up the difference for Heller.

Heller, for two years, had been not just Democrats’ top Senate target, but its only decent knock-off opportunity on a map that put Democrats in half of the country on defense. He seemed aware of that precarious position in his purplish state early in the cycle, when he made a point of standing by the state’s popular Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, to reject a Senate GOP draft for repealing and replacing Obamacare.

That’s when life became complicated for Heller, and when he stopped making sense. The rejection of the early health care bill drew him a primary challenger from the right, Danny Tarkanian. From then on, Heller began cozying up to President Donald Trump and inexplicably supported subsequent repeal-and-replace proposals. In early 2018, Tarkanian withdrew his bid and declared for a House seat instead (with some nudging from the president). Heller was never able to convincingly explain where he was on health care, so he stopped trying. He became something of a ghost to Capitol reporters, entering and leaving the chamber through back doors to avoid questioning.

Rosen, a protégée of Harry Reid’s—as all prominent Nevada Democrats are—had rapidly moved up the food chain in Nevada politics, declaring her Senate bid not long after she had been sworn into her first House term. With help from the Democratic machine that Reid built in Clark County, the state’s turnout following the end of early voting alone was at 114 percent of 2014’s total turnout. It was too far too much, even for undefeated Dean Heller, to overcome.