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John L. Smith: Trump Visit Underlines Heller's Tough Road Ahead

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(AP Photo/John Locher)

President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., during a roundtable discussion on tax reform Saturday, June 23, 2018, in Las Vegas.

President Donald Trump spent Saturday in Las Vegas firing up the base at the Republican State Convention. He met with donors and stumped for U.S. Senator Dean Heller R-NV.

Heller is in a pitched battle to keep his seat against Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen, D-NV.

So, did it work? Was this a successful tour for the president and Heller?

John L. Smith, a longtime Nevada journalist and contributor to State of Nevada, said Trump's visit highlighted Heller's penchant to change his opinion.

“There is no question about it. Whatever Kool-Aid there is to drink in the Trump universe, Dean Heller is taking it by the pitcher full these days,” Smith said.

Heller clashed with the president over health care but apparently, that dispute has been dealt with.

Smith said Heller understands that the GOP is now defined by President Trump's "braggadocio" and his stance on issues like immigration and healthcare.

However, Smith said there is a sizable number of independent voters in Nevada and Heller is smart enough to know he needs to tack towards the middle for the General Election in November.

During his keynote speech at the State Republican Convention, President Trump called Heller's opponent "Wacky Jacky," which to Smith isn't that surprising. 

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He says that is the style that everyone has become accustomed to with this president.

“Calling Jacky Rosen ‘wacky Jacky,’ well I bet she hasn’t been called that since she was a schoolgirl,” Smith said.

Besides being seen with Dean Heller, the president was also seated with Republican candidate for governor Adam Laxalt.

“I think that being with the president, getting the face time with him is really important for Adam Laxalt. Now, whether that’s going to appeal to a Nevada constituency that’s filled with independent voters is another thing,” he said.

For now, Smith believes it is the right play for Laxalt to be seen as Trump's man in Nevada.

Besides firing up the Republican base and showing his support for Republican candidates in Nevada, Smith believes President Trump may have wanted to come West to get a break from the heat in Washington over his administration's zero-tolerance immigration policy, which has separated more than 2,000 migrant children from their parents.

“It clearly was a bad week for the president. I think that’s one reason we saw him in Las Vegas," Smith said.

It is a policy that may not play well in Nevada, or really the entire western half of the country, Smith believes.

“What you have here is a growing immigrant culture that for generations has worked for Southern Nevada,” he said, not just in the Culinary and Labor unions but with people just making a new life in the state.

He said the issue will get people on both sides fired up this November.

Guests

John L. Smith, KNPR contributor

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