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Trump Makes Multiple Trips To Nevada To Campaign For Sen. Dean Heller's Re-Election


Nevada Senator Dean Heller is probably the most high-profile example of how the Republican Party has remade itself in President Trump's image over the past two years. Heller was once one of Trump's top skeptics. Now he's a close ally. And Trump is making repeated trips to Nevada to help Heller win a close campaign for re-election. NPR's Scott Detrow reports.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want to introduce a man that really has done a fantastic job.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: This weekend in Elko, Nev., Trump and Heller stood on a stage and traded compliments.


DEAN HELLER: In fact, I think everything you touch turns to gold.


DETROW: It was a far, far cry from last summer, when Trump sat next to Heller at a White House meeting and basically threatened him.


TRUMP: Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn't he?

DETROW: The meeting's topic? The Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare. At the time, Heller was a no and was blocking the bill's progress in the narrowly divided Senate.


TRUMP: We weren't friends. I didn't like him. He didn't like me.

DETROW: Trump recounted the moment during another recent Nevada rally. Heller ultimately came around, supporting the failed repeal effort and then helping orchestrate one more push to undo the law a couple of months later. He says working with Trump on health care and other issues created a real bond.


HELLER: What happened was success. He became president of the United States. We started working together. We started working together, and it built trust. When you have success, it builds trust. When you build trust, it builds friendships.

DETROW: Trump put it another way.


TRUMP: Then we started to like each other. Then we started to love each other.

DETROW: A close relationship with Trump is an asset if a Republican wants to survive a primary challenge these days. It's not clear how that positioning plays, though, in a general election in an evenly divided state like Nevada. Heller's opponent, Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen, is making the shift a key part of her campaign to unseat Heller. While many Democrats keep Trump out of their campaign talking points, Rosen's making her race all about the president.


JACKY ROSEN: I think we're going to be a check and balance on the president. We're going to try to restore the dignity and decency of our democracy.

DETROW: Rosen keeps campaigning on Heller's role in the Obamacare repeal attempt. Even though so many other things have happened since Trump took office, Rosen argues health care sticks in voters' minds since everyone gets sick.


ROSEN: And so that's the thing that binds every single person, even though there may be other reason - other things that they're worried about. That's why it matters. Dean Heller, guilty of the biggest broken promise in modern Nevada history.


UNIDENTIFIED UNION MEMBERS: We vote, we win. We vote, we win. We vote, we win.

DETROW: Rosen's campaign platform matters for sure, but so does Democratic mobilization. Nevada sees bigger swings between presidential and midterm voter turnout than most other states. If Rosen has a chance at winning, labor groups like Nevada's Culinary Union need to get their voters to the polls. Several hundred union members recently rallied with Rosen before going out to knock on doors.


DETROW: Union member Donna Yu found several Democrats who plan on voting for Rosen. She also ran into the type of apathy that Democrats worry about.

DONNA YU: Do you like what's going on in our country?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm a gamer boy, so I really don't care. You know?

DETROW: The party is working hard to boost turnout. In addition to all that canvassing, high-profile surrogates like former president Barack Obama and former vice president Joe Biden are visiting the state. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto says she's confident Democrats will show up.


CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO: You know, the telltale sign for me was our primary. And this primary had literally so much energy, more Democrats than Republicans. We've never seen that in the primary election in Nevada before.

DETROW: Early voting numbers will provide a much clearer picture. Nevada voting began this past weekend. More than half of Nevada voters typically cast ballots early, so party voting totals can be a key indicator of how Election Day will turn out. Scott Detrow, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.