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October 22, 2014

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Sue Lowden, Danny Tarkanian take off gloves at Republican Senate debate

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Members of the audience applaud Friday during a Republican debate sponsored by conservative talk radio station KDWN.

Senate Republican Debate

Chad Christensen answers a question Friday during a Republican debate sponsored by conservative talk radio station KDWN. Launch slideshow »

Sun Coverage

Five Republican candidates in the race to oust Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid shared the stage at a debate Friday night, but it was the top two contenders — Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian — who stole the show.

They took the opportunity to toss barbs and draw contrasts as the campaign enters its final month.

The debate, held in a packed showroom at The Orleans and moderated by conservative radio talk show Heidi Harris, encouraged confrontation, as the candidates asked their rivals questions.

Still, all the candidates were in general agreement on the major issues. All support Arizona’s tough new immigration law and oppose Congress’ financial regulatory reform efforts.

The real sparks flew between Lowden and Tarkanian, who lead most polls.

Tarkanian, an early favorite, has seen his campaign eclipsed by Lowden’s in recent months.

He has spent the past week attacking her on a near-daily basis, hoping to capitalize on the biggest gaffe of the campaign — Lowden’s suggestion that bartering is an effective means to reduce health care costs.

So when Lowden, a former state senator and chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Party, got the opportunity to ask questions, she attacked Tarkanian for “disregarding Reagan’s 11th Commandment” to not speak ill of other Republicans and targeted his record as a lawyer.

She said the Nevada Supreme Court had “reprimanded him for practicing without a license.”

Tarkanian, a lawyer and Las Vegas businessman, said he had merely been sanctioned for not responding to a letter for doing legal work while his law license was inactive, not for practicing without a license.

He then responded in kind, arguing that Lowden has waffled on her positions, citing the federal bank bailout in particular. He also attacked her tax record as a state legislator and her past donations to Reid’s campaigns, a line the audience booed.

“If Sue Lowden thinks her positions are critical, why can’t she stand by them?” Tarkanian asked.

When Lowden said that she and her husband had in fact supported Reid decades ago, the crowd booed again. She recovered by saying that as she travels the state, many voters agree that Nevada’s senior senator has changed.

“I don’t know if it’s because he’s been there for three decades or because of the leadership, but he’s a different person than he was three decades ago,” she said to applause. “I’m making sure he doesn’t go back to Washington to represent us.”

Both sought to play up their strengths in a general election.

Tarkanian recalled his first campaign, an unsuccessful run for state Senate in 2004. He said his opponent in that race, state Sen. Mike Schneider, attacked him with ammunition from Reid’s researchers.

While he lost the race, he won a defamation suit against Schneider last year. He argued that he was immune from those same attacks and had the strength to withstand Reid’s assaults.

Lowden said she had hired the same campaign team that helped then-Congressman John Thune oust Reid’s predecessor as Senate majority leader, South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle.

She also emphasized her fundraising prowess. She leads the Republican field in the money race, having raised $2.1 million. Lowden, a wealthy casino owner, decided to match her donations in the last quarter.

Clearly pleased with his performance, Tarkanian announced a “victory party” in the casino’s TGI Friday’s.

The winner was far from certain, though, with the biggest applause of the night going to former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle for comments she made about auditing the Federal Reserve and liquidating Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Even Angle, the favored candidate of the Tea Party Express, attacked Lowden, making the dynamics of the race clear. Lowden is leading and time is getting short.

The primary is June 8.

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