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Steve Friess, Reporter, Politico
BY AMY KINGSLEY -- What happened to Sen. Dean Heller? He was a staunch conservative when he represented rural and Northern Nevada. But since he moved to the Senate in 2011, he has become a moderate political pragmatist, a persuadable force on guns, immigration and even taxes.
Heller's political evolution, described in Politico by Steve Friess, may actually a return to moderate Republican roots.
In the U.S. House, Heller represented an extremely white and very conservative crop of constituents, and his voting record during that time was quite conservative. Since he was appointed to the U.S. Senate, Heller has represented the entire state, which is increasingly diverse and Democratic.
But before all that, he held several state offices, and according to journalist Steve Friess, the Dean Heller of that period was far more like the Dean Heller we're seeing now.
“When he was an assemblyman and secretary of state, everyone thought he was pretty moderate,” Friess says. “They tried to convince him to become a Democrat.”
“He voted in 1993 to repeal the state’s gay sodomy act. That was essentially the 'gay marriage' of its time.”
By becoming a moderate, Heller may be accruing valuable political power, Friess said.
“He wants to be seen as one of those few senators, and there are so very few, whose votes are available for some good idea that might come along.”
Whether Dean Heller will channel his efforts to strengthen the Republican Party in Nevada is another question altogether. Nevada Democrats have a powerful strategist and rainmaker in U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and many pundits have said that Nevada Republicans will trail Democrats until they have a leader who can give the party more direction and coherence.
Friess says Heller hasn't shown ambitions to be such a leader for the Nevada GOP.
“It’s not clear whether (Heller) wants to be a leader, or if he just wants to be somebody who can be swayed one way or the other, which is also a source of power," Friess says.