LAS VEGAS (AP) — A month ago, Nevada Senate candidate Joe Heck disavowed his once-reliable support of fellow Republican Donald Trump after a tape surfaced with Trump making disparaging comments about women.
This week, in a highly competitive race, Heck said Trump would be a good commander in chief but refused again to say whether he would vote for Trump.
The shifting stance has put Heck in a difficult position with his base and refueled a central line of attack for his Democratic opponent Catherine Cortez Masto, who criticized his early support for Trump and then questioned the sincerity of his un-endorsement.
Heck is locked in a tight race with Cortez Masto, a former Nevada attorney general, to replace Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat who is retiring at the end of the year,
Heck said in a Tuesday interview with KSNV-TV in Las Vegas that Trump is qualified for the Oval Office. "I think that if you meet the constitutional qualifications and you're selected by the Republican Party, then you're qualified to be president," he said.
Democrats characterized that as a flip-flop after Heck's earlier calls for Trump to leave the race. 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 weathered harsh criticism from his Democratic opponent in a swing congressional district after standing by his Trump endorsement.
"I can say every day that goes by proves that I was absolutely right," he said. "I said what I think is best."
Heck defended his un-endorsement as a deeply personal move rooted in his solidarity with sex assault victims. But his opponent says the comments Tuesday show his position on Trump follows the polls in Nevada that have recovered somewhat for Trump in recent days.
"He really is desperate, and he's trying to save his political career based on how well Donald Trump is doing at the time," Cortez Masto said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press. "He can't decide what he's wants to do — and that's not leadership."
Heck told the TV station that 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."
However, Heck wouldn't say if he's voting for Trump.
"We still have six days before I walk into the booth," he said. "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 vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton.