Nevada GOP candidate says Trump 'qualified' to be president, won't pledge to vote for him

Joe heck 11/1/16 (Jeff Gillan | Dominick Lee | KSNV)

One week out, and the Republican half of the most-watched Senate race in the nation was manning the phones. Joe Heck was calling up party chairs around the state at his Pecos Road headquarters.

It’s the grunt work even a candidate can’t avoid.

In a tight race to fill the seat now held by Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, Heck has struggled with his support for the top of the Republican ticket, Donald Trump. Three weeks ago, on the heels of an explosive videotape, Heck dumped Trump, after the nominee was caught talking about women in vulgar terms.

“I can no longer look past the pattern of behavior and comments that have been made by Donald Trump,” Heck told a Summerlin rally the morning of October 8th.

But will he vote for the guy one month later, on November 8th?

“Well, I can tell you I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton,” Heck told me, echoing a line also used by Nevada’s Republican Senator, Dean Heller. “We still have six days before I walk into the booth. On November 8th, I’ll have a decision,” Heck said.

A nominee like none other, Trump’s talk has presented the GOP with trouble.

Is the guy qualified to be President, I asked Heck, who’s leaving three terms in the House of Representatives.

“Well, according to our Constitution he is,” Heck told me.

When I pressed further, asking, forget the Constitution – what do YOU think?

“I think he won our nomination through a very intensive primary process and caucus process, and the Republican voters decided that they wanted him as their nominee. So, I think if you meet the Constitutional qualifications and you’re selected by the Republican Party, then you’re qualified to be President,” Heck said.

Democrats have made Trump’s temperament an issue, claiming a man like him should get nowhere near the nuclear codes. I asked Heck, a Brigadier General in the US Army Reserves if he would be comfortable having Trump as commander-in-chief.

“I think whomever the next commander-in-chief is, they’re going to need to surround themselves with military leaders that will provide them with the expert advice that they need to keep the country safe and make sure our men and women in uniform have the tools and the resources they need to do the jobs we asked them to do,” Heck told me. “I think that Donald will do that. He certainly has a lot of military leaders that have signed on as his advisors.”

Heck’s race with Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto is essentially a tie. When he distanced himself from Trump a few weeks ago, he was greeted that morning by scattered boos and heckling. Did his campaign take a hit, I asked.

“Certainly in the polling, we’ve been up in the last two polls that were done, so I don’t think it necessarily has had as much of a blow-back as the media wants it to have,” he said.

We caught up with Heck just a few days after the head of the FBI roiled the race for the White House, saying agents found new Clinton emails. Democrats said the news, especially since it came with no specifics, should not have been dropped on the American people 10 days before an election.

Should James Comey have waited, I asked Heck.

“It’s interesting that the Democrats are now blasting Comey for his decision, but they were singing his praises based on his decision back in July,” Heck said.

In July, Comey said Clinton’s private email set-up was sloppy and careless, but not criminal.

“When he came out with the decision he made in July, while I thought it might not have been the best decision, I didn’t second-guess him,” Heck said, adding, “I didn’t speak ill of him. He’s the director. He did what he thought he needed to do. Likewise, in this decision, I think he did what he thought was best.”

Our conversation came on the first day of open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act, fighting words to Republicans who say the law never lived up to its promise. As proof, they point to the recent news that premiums are headed up – in Nevada, by low double digits, although subsidies shield some Americans from feeling the hit. Others, however, will.

“This is a law that was supposed to decrease your costs,” Heck said. “It hasn’t decreased costs.”

Heck wants to keep the consumer protection portions of the law, such as protection for pre-existing conditions, and return to a more incentive-based system. “Let’s incentivize people to go out and buy an insurance policy that works for them and their families. Give individuals a tax credit, just like we do employers to go buy a policy with the coverages they want, from a provider that they want, that has the health care professionals on it they want to see.”

An issue on the campaign trail has been immigration, in a state that’s 28% Hispanic. Heck’s position is more nuanced than far-right conservatives in his party. He tells me he’s for reform and has said he would allow “Dreamers” – those young people brought here illegally by their parents, to stay.

“Any child brought here by no fault of their own, who grew up in the United States and graduated from a US high school should have a path to citizenship. This is the only country they have ever known,” Heck says. Referring to the President’s executive actions which have shielded millions from deportation, “I don’t believe it should be done through executive order, but it should be done through legislation,” he says.

Heck says immigration should be fixed with added border security, better internal security to monitor visas, a mandatory “E-Verify” system for employees and employers and a guest worker program.

Heck wants the discussion to include birthright citizenship, which stems from the 14th Amendment of the Constitution and grants all born on US soil citizenship.

I asked him just what a discussion means.

“Well, as I said, I think we need to address all elements of immigration reform, and since many have brought up the element of birthright citizenship, I think it should be part of the discussion. I would like to come up with an approach to immigration that finally puts the issue to rest,” Heck says. But what would he want to do, I asked further. “I think it’s got to be part of the debate, just as I said the remaining portion of the undocumented population should have a path to some type of legal status -what is that status – that should be the debate,” Heck said.

Democrats brought in their campaigner-in-chief on October 23rd to rally the troops for Cortez Masto. President Obama spent much of his time saying Heck’s dumping of Trump was too little, too late.

Heck told me in this campaign that cuts both ways.

“Catherine Cortez Masto continues to stand behind Hillary Clinton, somebody who is now under reinvestigation for the use of a private email server that jeopardized national security information,” Heck told me, although there’s no proof, yet, Clinton’s home-brew email setup damaged national security. Heck, however, is still steamed.

“Why isn’t anyone asking Catherine Cortez Masto why she continues to stand behind Hillary Clinton?”

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