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Heller, Rosen Spar Over Trump in Nevada Senate Debate

Silver State race offers Democrats rare pickup opportunity this cycle

Supporters of Nevada Democratic Senate nominee Jacky Rosen wave signs outside KLASA-TV before the debate between Rosen and Republican Sen. Dean Heller. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Supporters of Nevada Democratic Senate nominee Jacky Rosen wave signs outside KLASA-TV before the debate between Rosen and Republican Sen. Dean Heller. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

LAS VEGAS — Democrats running for Senate this year have walked a tightrope when it comes to President Donald Trump, but not in closely divided Nevada. Here, their Senate nominee, Rep. Jacky Rosen, more forcefully called for a check on the president Friday night, accusing Republican incumbent Dean Heller of being a “rubber stamp.”

“We need to put a check and balance on this president, something you’re not willing to do, senator,” Rosen said looking directly at Heller in their first and only debate of the campaign, hosted by KLSA-TV.

Rosen finds herself in a rare position for a Democratic Senate candidate this election cycle. Most of them facing competitive races, either for open seats or for re-election, are more likely to simultaneously stress wanting to work closely with Trump while also standing up for their states’ interests.

That’s because they are all running in much more Republican states. Heller is the only GOP senator up for re-election in a state Trump lost in 2016.

Still, Trump only lost Nevada by 2 points, and the GOP senator did not shy away from his close relationship with the president.

“I go and talk to him — something that she can’t do,” Heller said in response to Rosen. The exchange occurred after the candidates were asked how to prevent the Trump administration from taking money out of a fund relating to public lands.

Trump is traveling to rural Elko, Nevada, on Saturday to campaign for Heller in a more conservative and rural part of the state. Nevada political strategists in both parties agree the senator needs high rural turnout to win a second full term. Rosen, meanwhile, would need to ramp up turnout in more populous parts of the state, including here in the state’s largest city, a Democratic stronghold.

Heller credited Trump, whom he referred to as a friend, for the strong economy and ensuring a brighter future for younger generations. But two years ago, the senator was critical of candidate Trump, saying he was 100 percent against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and 99 percent against Trump.

Asked about that comment Friday, Heller said he and Trump “fought like cats and dogs,” but they have worked together since Trump became president.

“We’ve developed this friendship based on trust,” the senator said. “I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t agree with everything he says, but I do agree with most everything he does.”

Rosen, who’s in her first term representing Nevada’s 3rd District, told reporters after the debate that she could find common ground with Trump on infrastructure policies.

While she knocked Heller for his relationship with the president, Heller tied Rosen to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Asked after the debate about her thoughts on Pelosi, Rosen declined to say if the California Democrat should stay on as party leader, noting that it was a question for the next Congress. She did say she would back Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer for Senate Democratic leader if she wins next month.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up.

Watch: Tuesday’s Texas Senate Debate in 4 Minutes

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