The leading Republicans running for Nevada's newest congressional seat agreed more than they disagreed Tuesday evening during a 90-minute debate, with businessman Dan Schwartz emerging as the most moderate in a lineup of staunch conservatives.
A newcomer to politics, Schwartz said he believes illegal immigrants working in the United States to support their families "should be given a chance" to stay in the country, although he also backed securing the border.
"I truly believe many of them work very hard," said Schwartz, explaining that it's time "to take a step back on immigration policy."
He didn't offer any specific proposals to deal with the problem.
None of the other four candidates in the debate expressed support for easing up on illegal immigrants.
And none backed the DREAM Act, a Democratic proposal that would provide a path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants who go to college or join the U.S. military.
"I do not believe in amnesty," said state Sen. Barbara Cegavske of Las Vegas. "The DREAM Act, I don't follow that at all. I don't believe in that."
Danny Tarkanian is the leading GOP candidate in the crowded race for the 4th Congressional District, which covers five rural counties, a part of Lyon County and northern Clark County. But none of his competitors tried to target Tarkanian in the debate, although early voting starts Saturday and continues for two weeks until the June 12 primary.
That leaves little time for Tarkanian's opponents to gain any advantage over the former University of Nevada, Las Vegas basketball player who earned a loyal following during three previous failed runs for office.
The winner of the GOP primary will face Nevada Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, the only Democrat in the race, in November.
Tuesday night's debate at Aliante Station was the third in a series of face-offs, with one more scheduled for today in Pahrump.
The debate format didn't provide much opportunity for the candidates to confront one another, with four mostly conservative panelists asking questions and Mitch Fox of KLVX-TV, Channel 10, moderating.
The five candidates onstage included Tarkanian, Schwartz, Cegavske, Ken Wegner and Kiran Hill, another newcomer to Nevada politics.
The audience of more than 150 people appeared packed with Tarkanian supporters, including a row wearing red Tarkanian T-shirts.
After the debate, Tarkanian won a straw poll of 139 audience members who cast secret ballots. Tarkanian got 33 percent of the vote, followed by Hill with 25 percent, Wegner with 22 percent, Cegavske with 13 percent and Schwartz with 3 percent. Another 4 percent wrote in candidates.
During the debate, all of the candidates said they wanted to drastically cut federal spending and eliminate several federal departments such as the education, energy and environmental protection agencies that are favorite GOP targets. Instead, Republicans want states to handle such affairs with funding given to states in block grants.
Cegavske set a $1 trillion budget-cutting target for the first year.
Tarkanian offered the most specific prescriptions for reducing federal spending, saying the budget should be cut to 2010 levels as a start. He also called for eliminating tax loopholes and deductions for major industries and introducing a fairer tax system.
"Make everybody pay their fair share," Tarkanian said.
The candidates also agreed that U.S. foreign aid should be cut. Wegner, a Gulf War veteran, said he would eliminate most foreign aid as well as close U.S. military bases and bring troops home from places such as Europe.
Only Hill, a former Marine who has worked with the State Department in Iraq, said he would go so far as to cut foreign aid to every country including Israel, one of the closest allies of the United States.
"Our foreign aid, on average, does more harm than good," Hill said.
For Republicans and most Democrats, unwavering U.S. support for Israel is a given, especially with the nuclear threat from Iran.
All of the candidates also agreed that U.S. troops should be brought home from Afghanistan. Schwartz added that they should have come home eight years ago after the United States had accomplished its mission.
Schwartz also distinguished himself from the field by suggesting the federal government might somehow push banks to forgive some mortgage debt for homeowners in danger of foreclosure by "creating an environment where principle reduction would occur."
"It's the bank's decision," he added, however.
Tarkanian offered three ideas for Southern Nevadans who owe more on their homes than they are worth. He said the government should streamline financing, offer people a "credit holiday" so they can qualify for new home loans and get nonprofit agencies involved in short sales, with homes leased back to the families to keep them in their houses.
Tarkanian said he doesn't agree with how President Barack Obama has been using the federal government to handle the home foreclosure crisis, however, although he wasn't specific in his criticism.
"The government should not be involved the way Obama has done it," he said.
Contact reporter Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal .com or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.