(Bloomberg) -- Republicans got a rare bit of good news Friday in a congressional election year where Democrats show increasing momentum: The most vulnerable GOP senator on the November ballot, Dean Heller of Nevada, will no longer face the prospect of a divisive June primary.
Republican Danny Tarkanian, a perennial and unsuccessful candidate for Nevada elective office, said he’s dropping his bid to challenge Heller after President Donald Trump urged him to seek a House seat instead. Tarkanian was seen as a potential threat to Heller, and also to the GOP, because he’s seen as a weaker opponent for Democratic U.S. Representative Jacky Rosen, who is running for the Senate seat.
Tarkanian said in a statement that he believes he would have won the Senate seat, “but the president is adamant that a unified Republican ticket in Nevada is the best direction for the America First movement.”
Heller holds what is considered the most vulnerable of the 10 Republican Senate seats on the November ballot because he’s the only GOP incumbent facing voters in a state that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
Earlier this week, Democrat Conor Lamb declared victory while holding a narrow lead in a special election for a Republican-held House seat in Pennsylvania. The results have yet to be certified in the district, which Trump won by 20 percentage points in 2016. Republicans also lost a special election for a Senate seat in Alabama in December, with Democrat Doug Jones prevailing and narrowing the GOP majority in the chamber to 51-49.
Republicans had feared Tarkanian could beat Heller in the primary, then lose to Rosen in the fall. That would be a repeat of Nevada’s 2010 Senate contest, when Tea Party-backed Sharron Angle emerged as the GOP nominee, but only drew 45 percent of the general election vote against incumbent Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.
Tarkanian is the son of Jerry Tarkanian, the former UNLV basketball coach, and Lois Tarkanian, a Las Vegas city councilwoman. In 2016, he ran unsuccessfully against Rosen for her congressional seat, and he said Friday he’ll seek that seat again.
Tarkanian also ran unsuccessfully for the House in 2012, for the Senate in 2010, and for Nevada secretary of state in 2006.
Heller’s race is rated a “toss-up” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. The other two GOP seats viewed as competitive are being vacated by Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Tennessee’s Bob Corker. Democrats have eight seats seen as at risk of switching to the GOP, including those held by Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.
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