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Trump threatens GOP senator's job
00:46 - Source: CNN

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Sen. Dean Heller has recently drawn the ire of conservatives over health care

Heller is the only Republican senator facing re-election in a state that Hillary Clinton won

CNN  — 

One of the most vulnerable Republican senators seeking re-election in 2018 officially has a GOP primary opponent.

Danny Tarkanian, son of the legendary University of Nevada at Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, announced Tuesday that he’s running against Sen. Dean Heller in the Republican primary.

Tarkanian has run for office unsuccessfully five times in recent years in Nevada. But he has won Republican primaries four of those five times and would enter the race as an already widely known figure.

He said Tuesday he chose to enter the race after multiple Nevadans encouraged him to do so.

“They understand as I do that we’re never going to make America great again unless we have senators in office that support President Trump and his America first agenda,” Tarkanian told “Fox and Friends.” “Dean Heller wasn’t just one of the first Never Trumpers in Nevada, he was one of the most influential.”

“He actually helped Hillary Clinton win the state of Nevada,” the businessman added.

But Heller’s office said Tarkanian has repeatedly wasted conservatives’ time and money.

“We are not surprised,” Heller campaign spokesman Tommy Ferraro said Tuesday. “Danny Tarkanian is a perennial candidate who has spent millions of dollars on five campaigns over the last decade.”

Nevada residents have voted against Tarkanian each time he’s run, Ferraro said.

“If he ultimately files for U.S. Senate he will lose in the primary,” he said. “Dean Heller is a proven leader and is the only candidate with a solid record voters can count on.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee sided with Heller, calling the lawmaker “proven.”

“Time and again, Senator Dean Heller has proven he is unafraid to put Nevadans first,” group spokesman Michael McAdams said Tuesday. “The NRSC fully supports Senator Heller in his primary and general elections, and we are confident he will be re-elected.”

Heller is the only Republican senator facing re-election in a state that Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 presidential race. Headed into 2018, Democrats have identified him as their best pickup opportunity on an otherwise challenging map, and Heller will likely face Democratic challenger Rep. Jacky Rosen, to whom Tarkanian lost a year ago, in the general election.

Heller has recently drawn the ire of conservatives after he frequently criticized Trump’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, leading a pro-Trump group to briefly run anti-Heller ads. Trump continued to press Heller in July when he hosted the entire Republican Senate conference at the White House to get them to support the party’s then-stalled health care bill.

“This was the one we were worried about,” Trump said about Heller, who was sitting beside him. “You weren’t there. But you’re gonna be. You’re gonna be.”

“Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he? And I think the people of your state, which I know very well, I think they’re gonna appreciate what you hopefully will do,” the President added.

Heller eventually decided to stick with Trump and backed his party’s efforts on health care, which ultimately failed.

CNN’s Eric Bradner contributed to this report.