Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Republican Rep. Jon Porter has taken to calling his Democratic challenger, Dina Titus, a “flip-flopper” on the issue of offshore oil drilling, which both candidates support.
He says she opposed it last year.
“I don’t think we can afford that type of leadership,” Porter said at a debate Monday night.
That criticism made for awkward tension Tuesday between Porter, a three-term incumbent seeking reelection in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, and his party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain.
McCain had opposed offshore drilling until this summer when he said soaring gas prices demanded new approaches. Now he supports offshore drilling.
Asked by Sun columnist Jon Ralston during a taping of “Face to Face” whether the Titus criticism extends to McCain, Porter said yes. “I don’t agree with John McCain changing his position ... but I’m running against Dina Titus,” he said.
He then turned the conversation back to how Titus, as the state Senate minority leader, had the ability to change the language in a resolution that called on President Bush to lift the federal moratorium on offshore drilling. Instead, he said, “She gutted the bill … and voted no.”
In fact, Titus offered an amendment to the resolution, stripping offshore drilling language in favor of “incentives for the research, development and construction of renewable energy facilities.” The amendment failed and Titus voted against the resolution.
Titus, in remarks on the Senate floor said, “I believe … that it would be more appropriate for the Nevada Legislature to use its political power to appeal to Washington not to support the offshore drilling industry but rather to foster our own, homegrown renewable-energy resources.”
Spokesman Andrew Stoddard said Titus was “focusing on what’s going to help Nevada” at the time and that her support for offshore drilling with states’ consent has been consistent.
Both candidates are doing their best to show their independence from the national parties, with good reason: nonpartisan voters make up 15 percent of the district’s electorate and could decide the race. Neither candidate is attending their party’s national convention.
Porter faces the toughest challenge of his career. The political winds are against him. In 2006, he eked out a victory over challenger Tessa Hafen, an aide to Sen. Harry Reid, when voter registration was evenly split. Today Democrats outnumber Republicans by 25,400 voters.
On Tuesday, Porter put some distance between himself and Bush, saying he differs from the president on stem cell research, Yucca Mountain and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. He also criticized the administration for mistakes in war planning and for cutting funding to Nevada programs.
Porter also tried to deflect one of Titus’ key arguments – that he’s accepted $230,000 in campaign money from Big Oil while voting to award oil companies billions of dollars in tax breaks. He said the tax incentives were directed at building the first American refinery in three decades. He also noted that he has supported tax credits for renewable energy.
To be sure, Porter has supported much of Bush’s agenda. In 2006, he supported the president’s initiatives 93 percent of the time, according to an annual ranking by Congressional Quarterly. He won reelection that year by less than 4,000 votes and the following January signaled that he would cooperate more with the new Democratic majority in Congress. A midyear report in 2007 showed him voting with his own party 73 percent of the time, and it has since risen to 80 percent.
Asked by Ralston if he would invite Bush to campaign for him, Porter said, “No. Things are going well (on the campaign trail).”