RENO, Nev. — Hurricane Harvey prompted Vice President Mike Pence and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to cancel appearances Saturday at a Republican fundraiser in Nevada where one of the GOP’s most vulnerable senators, Dean Heller, is embroiled in a bitter primary his challenger says is a test of their allegiance to President Trump.
Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who is hosting the 3rd annual Basque Fry on a ranch near Carson City, said he talked to Pence and Cruz on Friday about the catastrophic effects the hurricane could have on Texas.
“Together, the vice president and Sen. Cruz have decided it would be most appropriate to cancel their trip to Nevada and focus their time and attention on the people affected by this storm,” Laxalt said.
The fundraiser will continue as scheduled with speeches by Rep. Mark Amodei, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and others. Heller and his GOP primary opponent, Las Vegas businessman Danny Tarkanian, plan to attend as well. Laxalt calls it the “can’t miss event for Republicans and those who want to celebrate conservative principles.”
Laxalt is a member of a famous Nevada political family that settled in the state from the Basque region of Europe. His ancestors were sheep herders who brought with them culinary traditions and delicacies from the old country that are on display at the Basque Fry.
The main dishes at the $55-per-plate western-style barbeque involve deep-fried lamb testicles. They are served individually or as part of a lamb stew. Local news coverage often focuses on who has the courage to eat the dishes.
Last year’s Basque Fry came at a critical time for Trump’s presidential campaign. Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. and former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton scolded the “Never Trumpers” who they warned could end up getting Hillary Clinton elected if they didn’t get on the billionaire’s bandwagon.
This year’s event will deal with some of the tension brought on by Trump’s presidency — mainly the race between Heller and Tarkanian.
Heller refused to endorse Trump for president and has clashed with him publicly over health care. He already was expecting a tough race for re-election in 2018 and now must survive a primary sure to fuel GOP divisions.
Heller, the only incumbent GOP senator on the 2018 ballot in a state Clinton carried last fall, has aligned himself with Nevada’s popular Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval in opposition to parts of Trump’s health care policy.
Tarkanian, the son of former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, said in announcing his candidacy two weeks ago that he would join Cruz, Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul “fighting for real reforms against the liberals in our party.”
He won an endorsement Friday from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. She said in a statement released by his campaign that Tarkanian is a “conservative outsider” who will help Trump build a wall on the Mexican border, end sanctuary cities and repeal the Obama-era health care law.
“We need senators in Washington, D.C., who are going to support President Trump and Dean Heller has shown he won’t,” Tarkanian said on Thursday. He said he talked to Trump last year after Trump sat with his wife, Amy, in church in Las Vegas.
“President Trump said, ‘I want to thank you for staying loyal to me. You’re the only one here in southern Nevada who did,'” Tarkanian told KKOH Radio in Reno.
Heller said Tarkanian is an extremist who “has zero chance of winning this election.”
“I’m not too far right, I’m not too far left,” Heller said. “I’m in the middle with 80 percent of America and 80 percent of Nevadans trying to find solutions to some of these problems.”