Tarkanian ramps up rhetoric against Heller in heated Nevada GOP primary

Danny Tarkanian is no stranger to Nevada politics, but elective office is a stranger to him.

Yet the repeat candidate who has yet to notch a general election victory in the state is running again, this time hoping to unseat one of the most vulnerable Republican senators in next year's party primary, Dean Heller. 

So is 2018 the year for Tarkanian? 

Heller may be more worried about a Democratic challenger, but Tarkanian is trying to exploit the narrative that Heller is hurting President Trump's agenda. 

Casting the incumbent as a “Never-Trumper," he created a website which he says chronicles all the statements Heller made against Trump during the 2016 election.

“Senator Heller doesn’t tell the truth, he flip flops on all the main issues, he doesn’t have conviction in his positions,” Tarkanian added. 

Last Thursday, Tarkanian also got a boost when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin endorsed him. “Tarkanian is a conservative outsider who will support the ‘America First’ policies our nation needs to survive and thrive, including building the border wall, ending sanctuary cities, and finally repealing Obamacare,” she said in a statement.

The Nevada politician told Fox News his family knows the Palins, but said, “It was unexpected. … I don’t think I’ve ever met her personally.” 

When Tarkanian announced his run, Heller’s campaign said in a statement, “We are not surprised. Danny Tarkanian is a perennial candidate who has spent millions of dollars on five campaigns over the last decade. Nevada voters have rejected him every time.”  

A Heller aide told Fox News their campaign was not caught off guard by Tarkanian, and their main focus remains on the general election.

Tarkanian, the son of legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, has run for  office at least five times -- most recently as the nominee for the state’s third congressional district in 2016. He narrowly lost to Democrat Jacky Rosen. 

Tarkanian, though, noted that Nevada voted for Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, saying, “It was the closest race any GOP candidate had in any contested race in Nevada … it would sort of be ridiculous to get that close and give up."

One of Tarkanian's biggest complaints about Heller concerns the effort to repeal ObamaCare. Tarkanian says Heller did not come through for the president during negotiations earlier in the summer, since he came out against one of the first iterations of the bill. 

Heller later backed the so-called "skinny repeal," which ended up failing. Trump famously joked, “Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” when appearing with Heller during health care talks.

Political experts in the Silver State believe Tarkanian has had strong support among Republicans but will have a hard time following through even if he wins the primary.

“He’s been the party’s standard bearer in previous instances, he just hasn’t won the general. He’s more dangerous in a primary to the opponent than he is in a general so far,” said Robert Lang, professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “If you said, could Tarkanian beat Heller? Yes. Would Heller be a stronger candidate in the general? Yes.”

Andrew Craft is a Fox News multimedia reporter based in Las Vegas, Nevada . Follow him on twitter: @AndrewCraft