ELKO — Danny Tarkanian said he takes the attitude of a public servant, the competitiveness of a basketball player and continuous support of President Donald Trump into the race against incumbent Sen. Dean Heller for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

During a meet-and-greet with Northern Nevada residents at The Coffee Mug Feb. 9, the candidate discussed his reasons for running and defined how he differs from his fellow Republican opponent.

“I was the only candidate in Southern Nevada who supported Trump throughout the whole elections. The reason that’s important is because that’s why I’m in this race,” Tarkanian said. “There was a lot of pressure on us to distance ourselves — disavow ourselves — from Trump. I was told, like they were told, ‘Your political career is over. You’re never going to have another chance again.’ ”

Yet he said he supported Trump because the policy of putting America first conformed to his beliefs and how he was raised. He pointed to his mother, a city councilwoman in Las Vegas, for demonstrating how a representative should act.

“She emphasized what was important about being a public servant, and that’s serving the people whether that’s city council’s city people or you’re running for office for the people of this country,” he said. “That’s different than what we see in most politicians who think about doing what’s best for themselves politically. They did what was best for their political careers at the expense of what was best for America and Nevadans.”

If elected, Tarkanian said he would apply “courage to vote” based on his “strong convictions” despite political pressure. The former basketball player and coach said the philosophy is similar to the approach to a game — show team spirit and never give up.

In addition to supporting Trump and his policies, the candidate differentiated himself from Heller on three other points. Tarkanian said he would vote to repeal Obamacare; he would not support granting citizenship to people who come to the country illegally; and he would not vote to give taxpayer money to any organization that performs abortions.

“The differences between myself and Dean Heller are [that] I will stand by and vote the way I promise when I campaign, and Dean Heller has shown time and again that he will flip-flop on issues based upon the constituency he’s trying to get to support him.”

Tarkanian said he recognizes the virtues of hardworking rural residents, and would strive to give them and middleclass Americans a voice in Washington, D.C.

“The people in the rural parts of our country are the fabric and backbone of our country,” Tarkanian said. “They’re what made our country so great. Urban areas are the areas we see in decay. They are having a harder problem upholding some of the great things that made our country … hard work, innovation, creativity and personal responsibility. Those are things that people believe and live by in rural Nevada.”

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About 20 people attended the meeting at The Coffee Mug. Outside the restaurant, posters stuck in the dirt read “This is Heller Country.” Inside, residents gathered around a long line of tables, sipping coffee and posing questions on topics including the Affordable Care Act, nation-building, accountability of public officials and agencies, the Tea Party and North Korea.

Mike Katsonis, from West Wendover, attended the gathering. The retired pharmacist said he supports Tarkanian but has no real “axe to grind” with Heller.

“The thing with Danny is, he’s a solid conservative,” Katsonis said. “He really wants to represent the rurals and their concerns. He can also pull votes out of Clark County. … We’ll see how that works out in the primary.”

Tarkanian grew up mostly in Las Vegas, went to the University of Las Vegas and has a law degree from the University of San Diego. He has practiced law in Las Vegas, coached basketball in Fresno, got into real estate, and started a nonprofit organization that teaches children life lessons by playing sports. He has a wife and four children.

Tarkanian has run without success for a handful of public offices in the past, most recently for Congressional District 3 in the 2016 general election.

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