One story of the 2012 elections in Nevada has been the fate of the presidential-candidate coattails. Barack Obama’s have grown. Mitt Romney’s have, it seems, been ripped clear off the coat.
After the video in which Romney talked about 47 percent of the country not paying income tax, Republican Sen. Dean Heller immediately disavowed Romney’s views and spun the inevitable Horatio Alger yarn, something about being born in a log cabin he built with his own hands. But Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley’s campaign quickly hauled out a speech in which Heller suggested that extending unemployment benefits could create a new class of “hobos.”
Heller has tried to distance himself from his party in another way. Republicans blocked a measure to provide jobs for veterans, who presumably would be among the 47 percent Romney considers bottom-feeders. Heller voted for the measure—a rare instance of him parting ways with his caucus. The Republican leadership seemingly permitted this apostasy for certain senators—Heller and Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts—who needed to maintain a moderate image for tough campaigns. (Romney, apparently, has received no such permission.)
Romney’s Nevada co-chair is Rep. Joe Heck, whom a Las Vegas Review-Journal/Channel 8 poll gives a sizable lead over John Oceguera in a swing district. Heck issued a statement about Romney’s comments: “It’s not about making some pay more, it’s about making more pay some.” That’s an attempt to agree with Romney without agreeing with him, and Oceguera, who could use a boost, should give Heck heck for it.
Another problem for Nevada Republicans tying themselves to Romney is the division within the party. The Ron Paul group itself may not be large, but support for his ideas is considerable in the state. Paul’s backers are true believers, and they’re not pleased with the state and national parties.
That could affect two congressional races. As a first-termer in a closely divided swing district, Heck has worked hard not to seem like a Tea Partier—amusing, since he won his race, the legislative primary in 2004, by running to the right of incumbent state Sen. Ann O’Connell, who seemed at the time to be as conservative as it was possible to be. But Heck has to be careful as Romney’s co-chair not to lose part of his base.
In House District 4, which stretches about halfway up the state, Republican Danny Tarkanian believes rural Nevada can help him against Democrat Steven Horsford. Will Paul supporters there be reminded that Tarkanian’s wife, Amy, used to be the state party chair?
Meanwhile, as Republicans hide from Romney, Berkley has tied herself more closely to Obama. That solidifies her with Democrats around the state, which could help her, especially in Washoe County. She could even help Obama with any Jewish voters who might fall for the false argument by the Republican Jewish Coalition that the president is anti-Israel.
And, in a brawling campaign that has bruised her reputation, it doesn’t hurt her that Obama has strong polling numbers in the categories of honesty and likeability. And according to the Pew Research Center, the highest unfavorable ratings of any major-party presidential nominee in decades belong to … Mitt Romney. Right now, Democrats are running to Obama and Republicans are running from Romney—with good reason.