In the first debate for Nevada's special election, Democratic state Treasurer Kate Marshall used much of her allotted time attacking former Nevada GOP Chairman Mark Amodei's legislative record and positioning herself as the candidate who would work with both parties at a time of persistent partisanship in Washington, D.C.
With just 10 days before early voting commences for the Sept. 13 contest, the onus in this race is on Marshall to find a contrast great enough to overcome her inherent disadvantages in the rural 2nd district, vacated when Republican Dean Heller was appointed to the Senate.
Wednesday night Marshall continued an argument her campaign has focused on since the start of the race, knocking Amodei for co-sponsoring a $1 billion tax increase in the state Senate in 2003. She also proclaimed her support to keep the Bush tax cuts in place — not the average line from a Democrat.
But in a district with 30,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats, and one that has never elected a Democrat to Congress in its 30 years of existence, Marshall needs to pick up some GOP voters for a chance to win. So she's banking on creating distrust of Amodei's conservative credentials.
"Here in Nevada, we have the wrong tax policy and you can thank my opponent here to my left, Mr. Amodei," Marshall said. "He passed a tax increase, a billion dollars, but the major part of that tax increase was a payroll tax, so every time you hire someone in Nevada you will pay more taxes."
Amodei defended the bill, which he said would have capped spending and prevented many of the problems the state now faces.
"The 2003 session is something a lot of people have paid attention to this election cycle. The problem is that some of them only pay [attention to] about 10 percent of what really happened," Amodei said, before noting that Marshall was a registered lobbyist that same year.
Marshall and Amodei were joined on stage by Independent American Party candidate Tim Fasano and independent Helmuth Lehmann. The debate in Reno, which focused primarily on the economy, was sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and broadcast on TV by the NBC affiliate in Reno and on its website.
Marshall kept a smile on her face as she turned each of her answers into pointed contrast with Amodei. She promised to protect Medicare and Social Security, then tied the former state GOP chairman to the House Republican budget that would overhaul Medicare. She advocated to continue the Bush tax cuts while also finding avenues for new revenue, then slammed Amodei for being unwilling to do the latter.
But Amodei confidently countered every attack and reinforced his preference for limited government spending and regulation. He said definitively that he would not support tax increases during a recession, and not over the remaining 16 months of the term.
Despite ending June with about half as much money as Marshall, Amodei has received a boost from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has aired four TV ads on his behalf, including one released Wednesday targeting Marshall's record as treasurer.
Both campaigns are receiving help from their parties' fundraising lightning rods. Earlier this week, President Bill Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) lent their names to fundraising solicitations for Marshall. Amodei is expected to receive a fundraising visit later this week from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
The two will face off at least two more times in the next week before early voting begins Aug. 27.