If their pitches to Boulder City Republican women are any indication, the jostling among Republicans who hope to face Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in 2010's general election will focus on the economy and taxes, as well as who is most devoted to the Constitution and liberty.
As the candidates made their cases during a Thursday forum, there were few direct references to the wedge issues of abortion, gay rights or immigration policy reform.
The mix of leading candidates and longshots featured plenty of Reid-bashing, broad policy critiques, subtle jabs at each other, and one candidate, Mike Wiley, delivering a line in a phony Chinese accent.
The forum was the first featuring all nine candidates defining themselves in relation to the rest of the pack. It was moderated by Review-Journal publisher Sherman Frederick and sponsored by the Boulder City Republican Women.
"It is not just about taking out Harry Reid," said former Reno Assemblywoman Sharron Angle. "It is about taking our party back for conservative values."
Angle contrasted her positions with those of the "Contract with America," a 1994 platform House Republicans devised that referenced God and, among other things, had multiple planks devoted to so-called morality issues in addition to fiscal conservatism.
"We have the right Contract with America," Angle said. "That is our Constitution."
She listed the top three issues in the Senate race as "economy, economy, economy."
Candidate Danny Tarkanian boasted he is leading Reid in early polls and criticized the incumbent for supporting too much government spending and encroachment on personal liberty.
"For those of you who believe in a limited government, lower taxes, honest regulation and meaningful accountability, I ask you for your support," Tarkanian said.
In an apparent reference to Chinese government officials' statements they are worried too much U.S. government spending in this country could threaten their investment in U.S. treasury notes, Tarkanian said, "The amount of spending is so enormous that even the communist Chinese are calling for restraint."
Tarkanian's biggest applause line came when he invited his 6-year-old daughter, Lois, to the podium to deliver the punch line to a joke about Reid.
Sue Lowden, the other leader in early election polls, mostly stuck to biographical material, detailing her background in Las Vegas as a television journalist in the 1970s and 1980s and her subsequent marriage to casino operator Paul Lowden.
"We were so very public about getting married and having children that everybody feels like they know me," Lowden said.
Lowden said she and her husband "have met payroll for thousands of employees. ... We were able to do that without a bailout."
Three-term state Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, was jovial throughout his speech and emphasized his record of winning elections.
Amodei paraphrased former President Ronald Reagan's use of a quote by former president and political philosopher John Adams, who said, "Facts are stubborn things," to illustrate his criticism of health care legislation being crafted in the House and Senate.
"Legislation at its core is about getting the policy right," Amodei said. "Facts are your friend."
Amodei also said under pending health reform legislation, "for those of you that care about Medicare, don't worry about that; that's kind of going away. Those are facts."
New York investment banker John Chachas, a native of White Pine County who is returning to Nevada to run for the Senate, warned that the economy is still in dire straits and that existing policymakers aren't willing or capable of reviving it.
Chachas said the financial crisis "has not gone away just because we have the Dow back above 10,000.
"This small lift is built on air. We have no job growth in this economy. None," he said.
Reid campaign manager Brandon Hall countered that the field of Republican candidates missed the larger point.
"As the Republicans spent the afternoon rooting for a bad economy and the status quo on health care, Senator Reid moved one step closer to passing fiscally responsible health insurance reform that cuts the deficit and ensures quality affordable, care for Nevadans," Hall said.
Retired Marine Bill Parson joked about his flat-top haircut at the beginning of his speech, but he transitioned into his thoughts on liberty and the relationship between Wall Street investment banks and the federal government.
Taking a shot at big banks but not mentioning Chachas by name, Parson said, "Wall Street through the bailouts is taking money from the middle-class and they are putting it into their pockets."
Reno attorney Chuck Kozak called for a reduction of the marginal tax rate -- the rate on the last dollar of income earned -- and criticized the 30-page policy paper of gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid, Harry Reid's son, by calling it a 60-page manifesto.
As Kozak finished, an audience member loudly said, "Tell us your name."
Candidate Robin Titus, a physician from Smith Valley in Lyon County, talked about running in nine marathons in five years, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and visiting the base camp at Mount Everest.
She criticized the proposed health legislation, saying health insurance shouldn't be tied to employment and called for pretax health savings accounts.
Titus also came closest to talking about moral issues.
"We can't let the secular progressives take over and destroy the very foundation of our nation," she said.
Wiley, the last to speak, also was the loudest.
Shouting several times during his speech, the former radio host talked about gun rights and referred to a picture of Reid with other Democratic politicians and said in a fake Chinese accent, "One picture is worth a thousand words."
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at email@example.com or 702-477-3861.