Forget the tame, staid, policy driven debates seen in most races in Nevada so far this year.
The debate between Republican Danny Tarkanian and Democrat Steven Horsford for the new 4th Congressional District in northern Clark and several rural Nevada counties was confrontational from the get go tonight on the Ralston Reports television program.
Horsford, currently the state Senate majority leader from Las Vegas, and Tarkanian, son of UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, mixed it up in the first debate between the two candidates on issues ranging from state tax increases to who will best support the middle class in the House of Representatives.
The 30-minute debate Thursday night saw a lot of time spent by the candidates in denying characterizations made by their opponents, including an ad from Horsford using Tarkanian's description of himself as a crazy radical.
Tarkanian said the description of himself was made sarcastically, while Horsford said criticisms of his support for taxes in his service in the Legislature failed to mention that Republicans, including GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, supported the levies as part of a bipartisan compromise.
Horsford said he has a track record as the head of the Culinary Training Academy, which trains people for jobs in the gaming and hospital industry in Las Vegas, in helping reduce Nevada's highest in the nation unemployment rate.
"It's what you've already done, not just what you talk about doing," he said. "And that's the difference between me and my opponent. I've actually spent more than 11 years, working in partnership with the private sector, with labor, with the community, helping people get the training that they need."
In Congress, Horsford said he will push for infrastructure projects that will get the depressed construction industry back to work.
Tarkanian agreed that job creation is the top priority for Congress, but said Horsford's track record in the state Legislature is one of passing job stifling tax increases instead.
"As a majority up leader, all he did was impose additional taxes on the middle class, for one, let's say the car registration tax," he said. "While people can't afford to pay for their homes, put food on the table for their families, he's going to double the cost of car registrations for the average Americans.
"He passed a tax bill that doubled the license fee, the business license fees, for business," Tarkanian said.
In Congress, Tarkanian said he will work to ensure the federal government does not continue to impose costly and burdensome regulations that impede job growth.
Horsford said the tax increases approved in the 2011 Legislature came with GOP support as a way to avoid Draconian cuts to public education.
He cited 25 months of continued growth in Nevada taxable sales as evidence that the tax hikes were not harmful to business.
Horsford defended using the term crazy radical, saying Tarkanian supported the anti-immigration law passed in Arizona even though it would have caused severe economic harm to the Las Vegas convention industry. He said Tarkanian wants to turn Medicare into a voucher program.
Tarkanian said he supported the right of Arizona citizens to deal with illegal immigration, but added that it might not be appropriate for Nevada. Tarkanian also said he has not endorsed the budget plan proposed by GOP Vice Presidential candidate and Rep. Paul Ryan to change Medicare to a voucher plan for younger Americans. He called it a "great start" to an important dialogue on the federal budget.
Tarkanian said Horsford has constantly misrepresented his positions in the race.
"The difference between him and myself was telling in the last statement that he said," Tarkanian said. "He believes you can pay down the debt by raising taxes on individuals here in our country. Every economist will tell you, if you raise taxes on people in a recession you're going to lose revenue. It happened when he did it in the state Legislature; it will happen if you do it in Washington, DC."
Horsford said Tarkanian has never held elective office and so does not know how efforts at compromise work.
"He has never been elected to anything so he doesn't understand that you have to work together to get things done," he said.
"My opponent is not being very clear on his position on this, because what he is saying is that it is OK to end, change, modify Medicare, and then to give a tax break to those at the top," Horsford said. "That is the proposal, and that is what will happen if he is elected to Congress."
The level of vitriol in the campaign can be seen in ads running in the contest.
Horsford's ad using Tarkanian's own words calling himself "one of those crazy radicals" attempts to associate Tarkanian with the conservative Tea Party, including support for such concepts as privatizing social security and eliminating the federal Department of Education.
An ad run on behalf of Tarkanian, funded by the National Republican Congressional Committee, calls Horsford one of the 10 most corrupt candidates running for Congress. The ad cites in part a story the Nevada News Bureau first reported in August 2010 about Horsford seeking contributions from lobbyists and special interest groups for face time with Senate Democrats. Horsford abandoned the concept after it was disclosed by the NNB.
The 4th Congressional District, newly created as a result of redistricting based on the 2010 census, encompasses the northern part of Clark County and parts or all of six rural counties.
The district has a strong Democratic advantage, 131,173 active voters compared to 96,716 Republicans as of the end of September, but a recent poll by the Las Vegas Review-Journal gives Tarkanian a slight edge of 45 percent to 42 percent, in part due to his name recognition. There are also 47,000 nonpartisan voters in the district.