Heller is widely seen as the weakest Republican senator on the ballot in 2018, perhaps the weakest incumbent in either party. Recently he has reluctantly signaled his agreement to roll back Medicaid expansion over a seven-year period. However, in a state where Medicaid enrollment rose 90 percent since 2013 and the rate of uninsured residents dropped by 28 percent from 2013 to 2015, Trumpcare is going to be unpopular. Sure enough, according to one polling methodology, Nevada voters oppose the American Health Care Act by a 53 to 28 percent margin.
Heller’s biggest problem may be Trump, whose approval rating nationally on average is about 14 points lower than his disapproval rating. In addition to the AHCA, Trump’s budget got a frosty reception in Nevada. On the perennial issue of nuclear waste: “The budget also includes $120 million the administration is seeking to restart the licensing process for Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, identified by Congress as the permanent storage site for used nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste. … Yucca Mountain is opposed by Sandoval and the majority of the state’s congressional delegation, both Republicans and Democrats.” (Heller opposes Yucca Mountain, but if he cannot halt the program — as Reid was able to do under Obama — he’ll be seen as weak and ineffective.)
Other objections to the Trump budget include cuts to food stamps (“The proposed budget would also impact the food stamp program or SNAP and the nearly 440,000 SNAP recipients in Nevada as of March of this year”) and to federal land funding, a major source of revenue in the state. (“The budget also proposes cutting $230 million of funding from the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act program which uses the revenue from the sale of some public land around Las Vegas to invest in infrastructure development and wildlife restoration. … Nearly 85 percent of Nevada is managed by the federal government and the PILT program helps pay for county and state law enforcement, and infrastructure maintenance of federal land since that land can’t be developed or taxed.”)
Rosen, like many Democratic challengers, will seek to tie Heller to Trump and make the election a referendum on the Trump agenda. If Trump remains as unpopular as he is, Heller will be torn between trying to shore up his GOP base and trying to distance himself from Trump. In what was once thought to be an opportunity for several Senate seat pickups for the GOP, Heller’s seat may be one of the few that changes hands. Such is the plight of an undistinguished GOP senator in the Trump years.