LAS VEGAS (AP) - Democratic front-runners in the competitive congressional district that includes North Las Vegas and a large portion of central Nevada faced off for their final debate before the primary election, hoping to distinguish themselves as the strongest candidate to take on Republican incumbent Cresent Hardy.
Former Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, state Sen. Ruben Kihuen and philanthropist Susie Lee participated in the televised matchup moderated by political journalist Jon Ralston. Half of the debate aired Wednesday, with the second half set to air Thursday evening on PBS.
Here are some highlights:
FENDING OFF ATTACKS
Flores has criticized the wealth of Lee, a philanthropist and education advocate who loaned her own campaign $300,000.
“It’s about perspective… and it’s about access to democracy,” Flores said. “Why should someone who has half a million dollars just laying around have an advantage in our political system?”
Lee argued she can relate to struggling constituents because she grew up in a large family that experienced the pain of her father’s job loss.
“I understand the struggle, because I’ve lived it, it’s who I am,” Lee said, adding that “every part of my career I’ve made a difference in the lives of people in this very community.”
Flores also defended herself after being ranked the worst Assembly member in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s anonymous 2013 survey of lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters.
“I’m not a go along to get along person. I’m a go along and get things done person,” Flores explained. “If people didn’t like me or didn’t get along with me … then why is it that I passed so many bills?”
Kihuen, who’s spent a decade in the Legislature, was on the defensive for being one of two lawmakers who didn’t introduce a bill in the 2011 legislative session. He noted he led a panel that year that worked to create the successful Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
“I was the chairman of the committee, and it takes a lot of leadership to be the chairman of a committee,” Kihuen said. “Now we’re bringing all these IT companies, all these manufacturing companies to the state of Nevada.”
STAKING POSITIONS ON HEALTH CARE
Flores, the only one of the three to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders, said she supports his vision of a single-payer health care system and considers herself the most progressive of the group because of that.
“I think that’s what the people want,” she said. “We’re the only developed, leading industrialized country in the world that doesn’t ensure that everyone has access to health care.”
Kihuen and Lee expressed more support for President Barack Obama’s work on the health care overhaul.
Asked if he supported a single-payer system, Kihuen said, “As of right now, I think we’ve got to continue working on expanding the Affordable Care Act.”
Lee took a similar tack.
“I think that we fought for almost 20 years to get the Affordable Care Act, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity to improve it,” she said.
CONTRASTS ON IRAN DEAL
Lee said she would have voted against the Iran nuclear agreement, but if elected to Congress, would work to enforce its provisions.
“I feel that Iran is a destabilizer in the region and an exporter of terrorism,” she said. “I’m not for repealing the deal, but I had grave concerns.”
Flores argued that if Lee supports diplomatic solutions to problems, she should say she supports the deal.
“It’s not about trust,” said Flores, who supports the accord. “There are plenty of accountability measures in this deal.”
Kihuen also favored the deal, saying it brought powerful nations together for a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“If you don’t negotiate anything, they’re going to be on a path to create a nuclear weapon,” he said. “This is not just America’s fight.”
Five other Democrats are in the 4th Congressional District primary, but their fundraising lags far behind the approximately $1 million in contributions that each of the front-runners have reported this cycle.
They are Morse Arberry, Dan Rolle, Rodney Smith, Mike Schaefer and Brandon Casutt.
Vegas PBS officials said they didn’t meet the station’s competitiveness criteria for participating in the debate, which factors in poll rankings, fundraising and signs of campaign activity.
One candidate, Rolle, showed up at the studio to protest the decision. General Manager Tom Axtell said station lawyers will review his concerns.
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