Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun
Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 | 7:28 p.m.
Democratic Rep. Dina Titus and Republican Joe Heck met for their first debate Saturday in their race to represent the 3rd Congressional District, striving to point out their differences but agreeing on most topics.
In a meeting that was mostly high-road, incumbent Titus and challenger Heck said small businesses are key to reviving the economy; growing the economy is necessary to reduce the federal deficit; math, science and technology must be emphasized in education funding; and colleges and universities should be held accountable for results if they receive federal dollars.
Titus and Heck disagreed significantly, though, on the federal health care reform bill and stimulus package. Heck said both were flawed in their execution.
Heck views the stimulus package as a bailout that adds to the national debt. Titus said the bill created much-needed jobs in Nevada and provided money to schools and colleges.
Heck conceded that certain provisions of the health care bill would help small businesses but argued that the law adds regulatory burdens that will prohibit businesses from growing. Titus defended the merits of the bill but said it is a work in progress.
The candidates also differ on how K-12 education should be managed. Titus supports the federal Department of Education. Heck believes control should be given to states.
In both his opening and closing statements, Heck asked the crowd gathered in a University of Southern Nevada auditorium whether they were better off today than two years ago.
“If the answer is no, you can be part of the new direction by joining my campaign,” he said.
Titus rebutted that Heck’s version of a new direction was resorting back to the failed Republican policies of the past.
In her remarks, Titus emphasized her record and mentioned women and minorities — both voter demographics she is looking to secure — several times.
Titus took a casual approach to the debate, smiling often and urging the moderator to call her by her first name. Heck was more serious and formal.
Both candidates remained professional and steered clear of name-calling and personal attacks, although they did each manage a few digs.
Heck accused Titus of fear-mongering in her television commercials. Titus, in responding to Heck’s criticism of her record, told her opponent: “You are entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts.”
The crowd of a few hundred appeared split in their loyalties. Audience members responded most vigorously, both with jeers and applause, when health care and stimulus spending were debated.
Those issues are certain to come up again as the campaigns rush toward conclusion. Titus and Heck are scheduled to appear in three more debates this week.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid also fielded questions at the event, sponsored by the college and several local minority chambers of commerce.
Republican Brian Sandoval declined an invitation to appear.
Reid spoke briefly about education, small business and green technology. But by then, most of the audience had left.