Polling in Nevada’s U.S. Senate race has been neck and neck for months with any advantage well within the margin of error. And last Friday, the top contenders for the position sparred over the biggest issues in that race. To talk about the debate between Jacky Rosen and Dean Heller, KUNR’s Bree Zender spoke to Senior Political Reporter Paul Boger to get the breakdown.
What can you tell us about the debate between Jacky Rosen and Dean Heller? What was the tone?
I think the nicest way I saw somebody describe Friday’s debate was “testy”. I think I would call it brutal and vicious. Over the hour-long debate, both Rosen and Heller attacked each other’s record. They lobbed accusations back and forth. They interrupted one another, regularly speaking over each other, and they both on a few occasions straight-up laughed at the other’s answer. I think it’s fair to say, the spirit of that debate did well with keeping in sync with the tone of the election thus far. It was negative and in many ways personal.
Wow, so what were some of the issues raised over the debate? I know we’ve heard a lot about health care over the last few months, I’m sure that came up.
You’re absolutely right; in fact, it was the topic of the first question. And I think that’s where Congresswoman Rosen really scored most of her points throughout the debate. Time and again, she used the topic to highlight Senator Heller’s votes during last year’s repeal effort – often referring to Heller’s promise to fight for keeping protections for people with pre-existing conditions and being a rubber stamp for President Trump.
She even challenged Heller to explain his vote to viewers who had spoken to the Senator personally about his promise.
"Look them in the eye and [tell] them the truth, really tell them the truth about why you broke your promise and why support slashing protections for pre-existing conditions."
What about Heller? What were his key points?
Where I think Senator Heller really out-performed his opponent was on experience and seniority. Heller did his level best to emphasize his record over the course of the last 12 years in both the House and Senate. He talked about the number of bills, his recent ranking as the 5th most bipartisan Senator, and how his seniority in the Senate was a boon for the state as a whole. I mean, objectively, Rosen does not have the most experience. She is a Freshman Congresswoman, and naturally does not have huge record. That being said, Heller also highlighted his ability to ally himself with the president. Heller was not a fan of the president prior to the 2016 election, however, in the nearly two years since taking office, Heller has developed a relationship with Trump. Here's what the Senator said about that relationship.
"Yeah, we had our differences and we'll continue to have our differences. I'll be the first one to tell you that I don't agree with everything he says, but I do agree with most of what he does. He has been incredible in this economy. He's done a great job. He's been great with our veterans. He's been great with our military. He's been bang-up job on trade. This is what's leading this country forward. This guy is moving this country forward and if my opponent had it her way we'd go back to Obama and take this country backwards."
Whether you like him or not, a relationship with the president is a useful thing.
What were some of the other major issues that came up?
I think the clearest demonstration of the differences between these two came up during the question on gun control reform and whether background checks should be expanded to private sales and transfers. Rosen said she supported expanding background checks to include private sales and restricting the sale of things like bump stocks. Heller countered by reiterating his support for the Second Amendment.
On the topic of federal lands, Heller highlighted his work to open BLM land to more development arguing that it would ease the state’s housing shortages while possibly creating more economic growth in rural areas. Rosen, again, disagreed by arguing that public lands in the state are a major tourism draw and a large source of revenue in their current state.
Was there any common ground between the two?
You know, I think these two did everything they could to distance themselves from one another. However, something I’ve found interesting is that veteran’s issues have come up a lot in this election in particular. And I mean it makes sense, there are quite a few military installations around Nevada, which means lots of veterans in the state. Both candidates have promised to keep veterans issues top of mind back in Washington.
So do you think this debate changed a lot of minds?
I can’t really say. I think if you were already backing Heller, you’re probably still in that camp, and, vice versa for Rosen. That being said, if you were watching a debate for a lesson in civility, I think you would have had more luck watching a boxing match.