CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Republican Dean Heller announced plans to run for governor in Nevada on Monday, declaring he would oppose government mandates on masks and vaccines and tighten voting laws if elected to lead the battleground state.
The one-time Nevada Secretary of State and U.S. Senator has historically positioned himself as a moderate and drawn attention for high-profile clashes with former President Donald Trump. His Monday remarks — including those in support of voter ID laws and a new Texas law that restricts 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, Heller railed against Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak’s coronavirus policies and blamed him for Nevada’s nation-topping unemployment rate, rising crime and suicide rates.
Republicans and Democrats have for months expected Heller to enter the race as the most well-known among the crowded field of challengers hoping to unseat Sisolak in next year’s election. The Associated Press confirmed his plans to enter the race last week.
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.
Republicans see Nevada, where President Joe Biden won by 2.4 percentage points, as a pick-up opportunity in 2022 because a Democrat occupies the White House and historically midterm voters have swung toward the opposition party, for governors as well as in Congress.
Heller, who lost Nevada’s 2018 Senate race to Democrat Jacky Rosen by five percentage points, said mandates and closures had burdened businesses and hurt schoolchildren. As governor, he said he’d allow private businesses to issue whatever mandates they choose.
Other Republican challengers include Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, attorney Joey Gilbert, surgeon Fred Simon and businessmen Guy Nohra. The primary election will take place in June 2022, five months before the midterms.
Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Sam Metz, The Associated Press