LAS VEGAS — Republicans say Rep. Joe Heck made a misstep in his tight Nevada Senate race when he said Donald Trump would be a good commander in chief but refused to say whether he would vote for the presidential nominee.
Heck revoked his endorsement of Trump last month after an audio emerged of the billionaire businessman boasting of groping women, drawing boos from a few Republicans at a rally. On Tuesday, in an interview with KSNV-TV in Las Vegas, Heck said Trump is qualified to be president but couldn’t answer on how he plans to vote.
“I think that if you meet the constitutional qualifications and you’re selected by the Republican party then you’re qualified to be president,” Heck said.
The interview revived Democratic arguments that Heck’s disavowal of Trump was a political calculation to save his career. Republicans worry it brings unneeded exposure to a middle-ground position that satisfies nobody.
“I’m not sure who’s advising him, but rule No. 1 is honor thy base,” said Republican Assemblyman Ira Hansen, one of the most outspoken conservatives in the Nevada Legislature. “Right now, you’re either pro-Trump or Hillary. There’s no middle ground ... it’s not going to endear him to anybody.”
Republican House candidate Danny Tarkanian, who has weathered harsh criticism from his Democratic opponent in a swing congressional district after standing by his Trump endorsement, said he feels vindicated.
“I can say every day that goes by proves that I was absolutely right,” he said. “I said what I think is best.”
While Heck has defended his un-endorsement as a deeply personal move rooted in his solidarity with sex assault victims, critics say the comments Tuesday show his position on Trump follows the polls. Trump appears to be recovering somewhat in Nevada in recent days.
Asked about Trump as commander in chief Tuesday, the GOP congressman said he expected Trump to surround himself with good people “and so I think that between the two candidates Donald Trump will be a good commander in chief.”
But, Heck wouldn’t say if he’s voting for Trump.
“We still have six days before I walk into the booth ... We’re going to wait and see what happens ... we’re working through it but on Nov. 8 I’ll have a decision.”
Heck’s muddled answer prompted the campaign to issue a statement hours later in which he tried to explain where he stands on Trump’s candidacy.
“My position on the presidential race has not changed,” Heck said. “I said ‘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 said he would not support Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Heck is locked in a tight race with former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who has made Trump a central issue. They are competing for the Senate seat held by Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is retiring at the end of the year.