A pro-Trump outside group is launching an advertising blitz against Republican Sen. Dean Heller over his opposition to the health care repeal bill — a bold act of political retaliation against a member of the president’s own party.
Heller, a Nevada Republican, is up for re-election in 2018 and is seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbents up for reelection this cycle.
The barrage, which will be orchestrated by America First Policies, a group run by many of President Donald Trump’s top campaign advisers, is backed by more than a million dollars, according to multiple sources familiar with the planning. Digital ads are set to begin running on Friday, and television and radio spots are set to launch early next week.
A Heller spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The offensive was announced just hours after Heller declared that he would oppose the Obamacare repeal bill. Heller, said several officials with America First, has indicated privately to the White House that he is unlikely to get to “yes” on the current Senate version of the bill.
“This bill that’s currently in front of the United States Senate is not the answer. It’s simply not the answer,” Heller said during his public announcement on Friday. “It’s going to be very difficult to get me to a yes.”
In attacking a vulnerable Republican senator, Trump allies are telegraphing that they’re willing to play hardball in order to advance the president’s stalled legislative agenda. Yet it is also certain to anger senior Republicans who are already worried about the party’s prospects in the 2018 midterms.
Allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is keeping a close watch over midterm planning, were rankled by the anti-Heller campaign, saying they did not receive a heads-up before it was announced.
Those involved with America First say the offensive is simply a ramped-up effort to keep Republicans in line – a role it has been hesitant to play until now.
“You do not want to mess with Donald Trump’s base in a primary, particularly in a place like Nevada,” said one America First official. “This kind of money in Nevada is real. … This is a beginning.”
The ad campaign will paint Heller as a “typical politician,” one of the sources familiar with the planning said, and will characterize him as standing with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi against the White House.
Another person involved in the planning, however, said it was possible that the commercials would ultimately be less hostile toward Heller depending on whether he softens his opposition to the bill. If the senator were to demonstrate a willingness to negotiate, for example, the group could air ads that simply encourage him to back the repeal bill rather than attack him so directly.
While Heller is one of a group of GOP senators that has voiced wariness about the GOP repeal bill, people close to America First say other senators have shown more willingness to move to yes than the Nevadan has.
America First Policies is led by a group of Trump loyalists including Brian Walsh, former White House official Katie Walsh (no relation to Brian), Brad Parscale and Pence allies Nick Ayers and Marty Obst.
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