When Dean Heller served in the Senate, he was known, primarily, as a pragmatic moderate, that is, a fitting political profile for someone representing a swing state like Nevada.

Now, however, Heller is running for governor — and he has decided to bow at the altar of Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, Heller told a reporter for the Las Vegas Review Journal that “he thinks Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” The Nevada independent followed up on that pronouncement; “Dean said that 71% of Republicans in Nevada believe Biden is an illegitimate President and that he is part of that 71%,” explained a spokesman for the campaign.

So, Heller, who wants to be the chief executive of one of our 50 states, believes that Joe Biden didn’t win because, um, a lot of other Republicans in the state think that? (A spokesman later told the Review Journal that “he meant to say most Republicans in the state think Biden is an illegitimate president.”)

I did some digging on the Interwebs and surprise surprise! Couldn’t find the poll that Heller’s campaign referenced in which 7 in 10 Republicans say Biden didn’t beat Donald Trump fair and square in 2020.

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When I asked the campaign, they offered some conspiracy theories about the 2020 election but didn’t produce the so-called poll.

Regardless of whether the poll actually exists, we know for certain that there was not, in fact, widespread vote fraud in the 2020 election in Nevada, a state that Biden won 50% to 48%.

Last April, following a review of a complaint by the Nevada Republican Party, Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske announced that “our investigation revealed that these allegations and others are based largely upon an incomplete assessment of voter registration records and lack of information concerning the processes by which these records are compiled and maintained.” She added that the claims made by the state party “do not amount to evidentiary support for the contention that the 2020 general election was plagued by widespread voter fraud.”

Why, then, is Heller repeating the Big Lie? Simple — he is hoping for a Trump endorsement and knows that the only way that will happen is to parrot the former president’s false claim that the 2020 election was plagued by fraud.

Heller has a lot of ground to make up with the Trumpian base of the party, as evidenced by the fact that he was booed at a recent Republican debate as he tried to position himself as the candidate closest to Trump in the crowded Republican primary.

The boos are likely a reflection of the rocky relationship the two men had when Heller was in the Senate. “What happened with Dean Heller is I tried for him, but my base did not believe him,” Trump told The Nevada Independent in 2019. “They wouldn’t go for him because Dean Heller was really hostile in my race.” (In the wake of the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in October 2016, Heller had said he was “99 percent certain” that he won’t vote for Trump.)

Heller, then, knows he starts in a not-great place with Trump (and the party base). And that the only way to give himself a chance at a Trump endorsements is to insist — contra facts — that the election was somehow stolen from Trump. His campaign, however, should probably find a better explanation for Heller’s position than citing polls.

It’s not at all clear whether Heller can convince Trump that he has been transformed from a doubter to a true believer. What is clear is that Heller has flip-flopped mightily on Trump — and done so for utterly transparent political reasons.

This story has been updated with additional comment from the Heller campaign.

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