Political News

How Trump and McConnell turned two problematic Tuesday primaries into a breeze

Posted June 8, 2018 6:26 p.m. EDT

— For months, Nevada and North Dakota were among the biggest headaches facing President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans headed into November's midterm elections.

In Nevada, until March, the GOP had two well-known candidates. In North Dakota, until February, it had none.

But after aggressive intervention from the White House, Trump's political team and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the GOP now has one candidate in each of those races -- giving the party nothing to worry about in Tuesday's primaries in two of the most important Senate battlegrounds on the 2018 midterm map.

"This is an example of what it looks like when things work well," said Josh Holmes, a top political adviser to McConnell. "Both of them had opportunity to be big trouble."

In North Dakota, despite a lobbying effort that included a visit with Trump at the White House, Rep. Kevin Cramer decided in January against a Senate run.

Rather than looking elsewhere for another candidate, though, Trump, McConnell, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner and other top Republicans continued courting Cramer, pressuring him to reconsider his decision.

"Everybody saw him as by far and away the best candidate we could field. So, that was an all-in proposition to try to get him to reconsider," Holmes said.

Oil tycoon and GOP mega-donor Harold Hamm also pressed Cramer to run -- and Hamm's nudging, Cramer told WDAY in North Dakota, was a major factor.

"When Harold talked to my wife Chris, he said, 'If Kevin does this, if you guys get into this, I will be his national finance chairman.' That was pretty compelling," Cramer said in the May interview.

In Nevada, Republicans were poised for a potentially disastrous primary between Sen. Dean Heller and conservative challenger Danny Tarkanian, who argued that Heller was insufficiently supportive of Trump.

Originally backed by Bannon, Tarkanian's campaign was undercut when Trump and Heller -- whose relationship was frayed by Heller's opposition to an Obamacare repeal bill -- grew closer.

Heller was a leading advocate for other Trump legislative priorities, including the tax reform bill. The two also talked on an October cross-country flight to Las Vegas following the mass shooting there.

Trump told Republican National Committee members he would campaign for Heller.

And in the days leading up to Nevada's March filing deadline, Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale urged Tarkanian to drop his Senate bid and run instead for the 3rd Congressional District seat -- with Trump's support.

Tarkanian responded that he'd do so, but only if Trump made the ask public -- giving Tarkanian something to show his supporters to explain his decision.

Trump obliged, tweeting: "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!"