Heller’s Kavanaugh position fraught with peril

kavanaugh helller
Sen. Dean Heller and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh meet in Heller's office in July. Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Senator Dean Heller is already on shaky ground with women voters, according to one poll.  Now, allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault a young woman during his high school years could further erode support for Heller among Nevada women.

Kavanaugh and his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, are set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday.

Ford alleges that as a teenager, a drunk Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and covered her mouth to prevent her from screaming for help.  Kavanaugh denies the allegation and told reporters he didn’t know who was making it until Ford identified herself.

Despite the allegations, which started to come to light last week, Heller has stood solidly behind Kavanaugh.

The position is fraught with peril for Heller who may be suffering from a gender gap among voters.

A recent poll commissioned by the Reno Gazette Journal gave Democrat Jacky Rosen a one point lead over Heller, 42 to 41 percent. But among women, Rosen leads Heller 46 to 39 percent.  

Democrats and groups opposed to Kavanaugh’s nomination launched broadsides at Heller most of the day Monday. Referencing one of his prior statements strongly supporting for the nominee, Heller’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, tweeted Monday morning that “If Senator Heller still has ‘no reservations’ about confirming Judge Kavanaugh, he isn’t listening to Nevadans”

An anti-Kavanaugh organization announced Monday that it is embarking on an ad blitz in four pivotal states, including Nevada, according to ABC News. Demand Justice says it’s planning a $700,000 campaign including TV and digital ad buys that will focus on Ford’s charges.

Heller’s Senate office did not return calls from the Current. But in a brief statement issued Monday, Heller said “I think it is important for Dr. Ford to share her information with the Judiciary Committee. Given the gravity of this appointment and this accusation, I would hope that all Senators, regardless of party, will work with Chairman Grassley in good faith.”

Heller is the only Republican incumbent in the Nevada congressional delegation defending a seat in a state won by Hillary Clinton.

Heller’s campaign website features a Women for Dean Coalition, which includes a number of state officials — among them Gaming Control Board Chairwoman Becky Harris.

“So, I’m not supposed to be on Senator Heller’s list of supporters.  I’m not supposed to be on his campaign. I was not aware that I was,” Harris told the Current.  “One of the first things I did when I got appointed was send letters asking to be removed from any campaign support lists.”

Asked if Heller knows that she is not supposed to be included in the Women for Dean Coalition, she responded Monday, “He will tonight.”

Harris recently heard from Las Vegas hotel workers about the threats of sexual assault they routinely encounter on the job.

Republican Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner, a member of the Women for Dean Coalition, says Heller is right to support Kavanaugh but declined to say why.

Republican lawmakers Jill Tolles, Robin Titus and Melissa Woodbury did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, who is Heller’s campaign chairman.

Heller’s website notes his support of the Violence Against Women Act.

Heller takes credit for the bill, saying he “pushed the measure into law. The critical legislation provides federal resources to assist victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence as well as resources for law enforcement to improve their response to these heinous crimes.”

Heller supporter Elisa Slider, owner of Silver State Hay, says she’s a survivor of abuse but remains a stalwart supporter of both Kavanaugh and Heller.

“If we start believing everyone who makes allegations against political candidates, no one will run.”

Slider says it would take a trial verdict to make her believe the allegations against Kavanaugh, though she knows not all victims come forward or press charges.

“I’m a victim and know that I’ve seen women point fingers and it wasn’t true and that hurts women like me,” Slider says.

She acknowledges that doubting the veracity of claims made by women who failed to report timely is also damaging to legitimate victims.

“They should definitely voice it.  I’m not saying they are lying. There’s three sides to the story: hers, his and the truth.”

Absent a court verdict, Slider says she’s siding with Kavanaugh’s side of the story.

“False accusations have happened recently against politicians. The president is one of them. I don’t know how many women have come forward and nothing’s come of it,” Slider says.

Donald Trump was accused of sexual misbehavior by numerous women during the 2016 campaign. Candidate Trump vowed to sue the women for defamation but has not done so. However, payments Trump made to two women with whom he allegedly had affairs have come to light.  Trump denies the affairs.

On Friday, Heller reiterated his support for Kavanaugh during a radio interview.

“Well my prediction hasn’t changed,” Heller said.  “By the end of the month we’ll have a Justice Kavanaugh, and America will be better off because of it.”

Asked if voting for Kavanaugh is a “no brainer” Heller responded “Absolutely.”

Las Vegan Sara Weston says with the evidence at hand Heller is within his rights to stand firmly in Kavanaugh’s corner.

“That’s just the reality of the world we live in.  Women lie. I’m not saying this woman is lying, but women lie,” says Weston.

“Based on the evidence today, Heller’s position doesn’t bother me,” Weston adds.  “She has a right to go before the Senate and be heard. If what she’s saying is proved true, no one, Republican or Democrat, should vote for Kavanaugh.”

But Weston says short of a conviction at trial, she will remain unconvinced.

“What I’m saying is kids are going to be kids,” she said. “Maybe it happened and transformed his life.  She should have reported it when it happened. If women want to be taken seriously they need to report immediately. That’s what I would do.”

Weston says the political ramifications of Heller’s support for Kavanaugh are non-existent and says she believes his support of the nominee will not alienate Republican women.

“It’s no secret that Heller’s not well-loved because he didn’t support Trump when he ran for president and because Trump asked (Danny) Tarkanian to drop out of the race against Heller.  But it won’t do anything,” she says.

Heller opposed Trump during the Republican primary in 2016.

Dana Gentry
Reporter | Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana is the mother of four adult children, three cats, three dogs and a cockatoo.

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