CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Republican Dean Heller announced plans to run for governor in Nevada, declaring Monday that he would oppose state mandates on masks and vaccines and tighten voting laws if elected to lead the battleground state.
Heller has historically positioned himself as a moderate and drawn attention for clashes with former President Donald Trump. His Monday remarks — including those in support of voter ID laws and a new Texas law restricting abortions — signal his preparedness to push issues galvanizing the Republican base.
In a converted warehouse where he worked during his youth that now serves as an office for the Carson City Republican Party, the former U.S. Senator railed against Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak’s coronavirus policies and blamed him for Nevada’s nation-topping unemployment rate, rising crime and suicide rates.
The pandemic has vaulted governors into a spotlight as the public has debated the merits of state-level executive actions they’re able to enact. With 36 up for reelection next year, the 2022 midterms will serve as a referendum on their performance and state-based policies in place to contain the virus.
Nevada, where President Joe Biden won by 2.4 percentage points, is a top pick-up opportunity in 2022, said Republican Governor’s Association spokesperson Maddie Anderson. Midterm voters typically swing away from the party that controls the White House. Anderson called Sisolak’s coronavirus policies “heavy handed” and hard on businesses.
Heller, who lost Nevada’s 2018 Senate race to Democrat Jacky Rosen by five percentage points, has for months been expected to enter the race. He immediately becomes the most well-known candidate on a long list of challengers hoping to unseat Sisolak. Other Republicans running in next year’s June primary include Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, attorney Joey Gilbert, and businessmen Guy Nohra.
Democrats are savoring the crowded field, hoping it forces Republicans to attack each other.