By MICHELLE L. PRICE
(AP) – President Donald Trump has cleared a primary election path for one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans running for re-election this year, persuading Nevada Sen. Dean Heller’s GOP opponent to drop out of the race and instead run for a House seat.
Republican Danny Tarkanian of Las Vegas, who has frequently criticized Heller for failing to be a strong supporter of Trump’s agenda, announced Friday morning that at the president’s request, he decided to leave the Senate race and instead run for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District.
“I am confident I would have won the U.S. Senate race and done a great job representing the people of Nevada in the Senate, but the president is adamant that a unified Republican ticket in Nevada is the best direction for the America First movement,” Tarkanian said in a statement Friday.
His announcement came shortly after Trump tweeted Friday that, “It would be great for the Republican Party of Nevada, and it’s unity if good guy Danny Tarkanian would run for Congress and Dean Heller, who is doing a really good job, could run for Senate unopposed!”
A message seeking comment from Heller’s campaign was not immediately returned Friday.
Heller, the only Republican senator seeking re-election in a state Democrat Hillary Clinton carried in the 2016 presidential election, sharply criticized Trump when he was a presidential candidate and at times kept a careful distance from him as president. Trump publicly scolded him last year but in recent months, their relationship has warmed.
The first-term senator has become an ally to the president by working to get legislation to Trump’s desk, including working closely to help write the Republican tax overhaul.
Though Tarkanian’s exit from the race creates an easy path for Heller to win his party’s nomination this summer, he will still face in November Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen in an election that could help swing control of the Senate.