Tax policy, jobs, education and tourism trumped bickering and name-calling in a debate between the two major candidates in the most important Nevada race attracting the least voter attention.
Incumbent Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., and Republican challenger Joe Heck engaged in feisty and substantive debate for about 25 minutes at Temple Beth Sholom in Las Vegas over issues facing Nevada's 3rd Congressional District.
The debate was the third between Titus and Heck since Saturday. A fourth is scheduled for 8 p.m. tonight on Vegas PBS.
As in the first two, Titus on Wednesday sought to depict Heck as a throwback to Republicans during the administration of George W. Bush.
Heck continued his ongoing effort to paint Titus as too willing to go along with government programs, tax plans and regulations he said thwart economic recovery.
The debate won't likely change the dynamic of a race that has been lost in the shadow of the slap-and-slugfest between U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Republican Sharron Angle, despite being one of the closest House races in the nation.
But the two candidates, with some jocular prodding by moderator Jon Ralston, did clarify some positions on hot button issues.
Titus opened with an attack aimed at undermining a rhetorical tactic Heck used in previous debates in which he asked audience members if they were better off today than they were two years ago when Titus took office.
"It took eight years of failed Republican policies to get us into this mess, it is going to take more than 21 months to get out," she said. "My objective is not to go back to the old ways but to keep moving forward."
Heck countered: "We need not to go back to the failed policies of any administration, whether it is the Bush administration or the current administration. We need to look to the future."
Ralston asked each candidate whether they would support extending tax cuts for couples making more than $250,000 and individuals making more than $200,000 that are set to expire at the end of the year, along with tax cuts for lower-income earners. He also asked how each candidate would offset such an extension.
Heck said he supports permanently extending all the existing cuts. Titus said she supports a permanent extension of the lower income cuts and a temporary extension of cuts for the wealthy.
Heck said exempting the high-earners from cuts would be costly to small businesses.
"If we want to truly create jobs, we have got to allow small businesses to be able to have the money they need to give the next pay raise, hire the next employee or expand their small businesses," he said.
Titus said she would maintain the high-earner tax cut, "until we get out of this current economic situation," perhaps in one year or two.
She said tax cuts for lower earners should be paid for in part by enacting pay-as-you-go, or PAYGO, legislation that requires Congress to offset spending with cuts or new revenue, as had been done from 1991-2002.
"The Clinton administration left office with a surplus that was squandered by the Bush administration," she said.
On jobs, Titus pointed out road projects and an expansion of McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas as examples of thousands of jobs created through the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
"I stood outside the airport at the new terminal where people were getting off work in a shift change shaking hands ... those are working hands and working jobs," she said. "And I can tell you every one of them said, 'Thank you for voting for the stimulus.'"
Heck countered by talking about the broader economic slump afflicting Las Vegas and saying government spending hasn't helped.
"It has gotten worse during the last two years," he said. "Our deficit has increased, our debt has increased and we haven't seen the jobs."
On education, Titus criticized Heck for suggesting cutting the federal Department of Education.
Heck said he didn't want to cut the entire department but did want to remove it from being a cabinet-level department.
On tourism, Titus criticized Heck for saying he would have opposed the Travel Promotion Act, a bill all members of the Nevada delegation supported that adds a fee to foreign visas to pay for promoting the United States as a destination. Heck said he would prefer the money visitors use for the fee be spent in Las Vegas on dining and gambling.
The Titus-Heck debate was one of three political presentations during the evening. Sheriff candidates Doug Gillespie and Laurie Bisch debated after the congressional candidates.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid had the limelight to himself for 25 minutes because his Republican opponent, Brian Sandoval, declined an invitation to debate.
Reid talked about his plans for education, balancing the budget and improving government transparency.
He said, "I should be your next governor because I have a plan to move Nevada forward."
Contact Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@review journal.com or 702-477-3861.