Six years ago, Dean Heller was in trouble.
The Democratic machine had built up a seemingly insurmountable lead in early votes, amassing a 71,000-ballot edge in Clark County and 50,000 statewide.
When it came time for me to pen my biennial election predictions column, the decision should have been simple. But something told me Heller would survive, that his relentless pummeling of then-Rep. Shelley Berkley for a House Ethics probe and then a brutal coup de grace distortion about a family trip she took to Italy, would be just enough to save him.
I foretold that he would win by 1 point despite the big Democratic wins on Election Day, and he did.
Not this time.
Heller, who has never lost a race, is almost as much of a political survivor as Harry Reid, the man who built the machine that failed to defeat Nevada’s senior senator six years ago but should succeed on Tuesday. Heller has done everything he can to lose the race — most notably, his multifarious positions on repealing Obamacare leading to the devastating “Senator Spineless” meme. Yet he has a chance to hold on.
Even though the Democratic machine has not built as big of a firewall as in 2012 – 47,000 in Clark County and 23,000 statewide – this is a midterm, and it will be enough. I think.
This has been a strange fortnight of early voting, with turnout much higher than usual for a non-presidential year and with momentum seeming to build for the Democrats and culminating with a Friday wave of votes. (You can read all of the dynamics here on my blog.)
But what’s clear is that younger people are voting in higher numbers, that while the president has animated the right as no other Republican can, Trump Fatigue is beginning to settle in the saner corners of the political universe and anger is rising. What’s also quite evident is that Washoe County, which saved Heller in 2012 when he won by 20,000 votes, has changed a lot. Democrats lead there after early voting by almost 2,000 votes. Heller may win Washoe, where Hillary Clinton also won, but not by a lot more than she did (3,000 votes).
Rep. Jacky Rosen is not a better candidate than Shelley Berkley. Indeed, she may be as nondescript a contender as you can imagine, on the verge of ascending to the Club of 100 when no one knew who she was three years ago before Reid plucked her from obscurity.
But Rosen is real and comes across that way. She is not Wacky Jacky; she is Regular Rosen. And this year, that should be enough.
Quite simply, Heller does not deserve to win. He wanted to run for governor but was scared off by Adam Laxalt. He doesn’t even seem to be trying hard as a senator, sneaking away from the media in D.C. where reporters have even labeled an escape door after him.
He doesn’t like the job all that much. He didn’t want the job all that much. He won’t have the job that much longer.
It’s sad in a way for me to contemplate this. Heller is genuinely one of the nicest people I have met in politics. That incandescent smile, that buoyant demeanor, that carefree mien. But he has surrounded himself with a confederacy of jerks who have not served him well, and he has traveled far from the days when he was a maverick secretary of state who really seemed to believe in things 25 years ago.
He is now willing to sacrifice his self-respect to embrace – nay, fawn over (“Everything you touch turns to gold, Mr. President.”) – a man he would ordinarily disdain (and did just two years ago) to clutch onto a job he does not like and is not very good at. Heller’s Velcroing himself to Trump is a pathetic act of political opportunism and so out of (what I thought was) his character.
If Heller loses – and I am only slightly more confident of this prediction than I was of the one I made six years ago – there will be something Shakespearean in his being ousted by Rosen, who is in the contest because of a recommendation by Las Vegas Judge Elissa Cadish. Cadish should be a federal judge by now, but Heller, in an extraordinary act of demagoguery and pettiness, blocked her from becoming one in 2013. Now Cadish is poised to become a state Supreme Court justice and her bridesmaid, Rosen, is about to become a U.S. senator.
The fault, my dear senator, is not in the stars.
Prediction: Rosen, 48 percent; Heller, 46 percent; others and None of these candidates, 6 percent.