Dean Heller will go to Washington as Nevada’s new member of the House of Representatives, but as a member of the minority.
His was one of the few GOP bright spots in congressional races Tuesday. And Heller won by less than 10,000 in a district with a 48,300 Republican registration advantage.
His opponent, Democrat Jill Derby, says the margin of victory and the GOP losses in the rest of the country should send a clear message to Congress.
“I asked him to represent Nevadans well, and I will hold his feet to the fire back there,” she said in conceding the race.
Heller said even though he defied the national trend and survived the Democratic onslaught, he got the message.
“Voters have nationally sent the message they want change,” he said. “They want people working together. They want the bickering to stop. They want the partisanship to stop.”
He said he believes not only the GOP survivors but leadership has to understand that message.
“I think Republican leadership has got to change,” Heller said.
He said that will tell the voters nationwide the party got the message.
Derby, a Douglas County resident and veteran of 18 years on the Board of Regents, was given little chance of overcoming the lopsided registration numbers when she filed for office. But political pundits of both parties agreed she ran probably the best campaign in the state this year, pulling nearly even by the start of early voting.
She said her campaign was proof “a Democrat can run a tough race and come close and almost win this seat.”
Meanwhile, Heller was hurt by a vicious primary battle by Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, who attacked Heller as a liberal and accused him of misdeeds as secretary of state, then sued him after losing. Her campaign was funded almost entirely by the Midwestern anti-tax, right-wing Club For Growth and left Heller almost broke as the general election battle began.
Heller said factors that made the race close included that primary battle, the fact it was an open seat with no incumbent and the national wave of anti-war and anti-Republican sentiment. And he said Derby was “an exceptional candidate.”
He said Republicans in the district were so demoralized, he spent the last two weeks calling voters to convince them that, even though they may not want to vote in some races, they must go to the polls for other candidates including himself.
“I said if you’re unhappy, vote ‘None of the Above’ but don’t give up that right,” he said.
Heller said he heard incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California, say she intends to reach across the aisle in Congress to bring members together and work on the nation’s problems. He said he intends to be part of that effort.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.