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September 2, 2014

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THE PORTER-TITUS RACE:

Gloves are off in critical race

Hopefuls get to ‘fun part’ fast in pursuit of 3rd District prize

The race for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District is on.

Republican Rep. Jon Porter and Democratic challenger Dina Titus quickly dispatched with the formalities at a 30-minute debate Monday night and got straight to what Sen. Hillary Clinton famously called the “fun part” of campaigning.

The candidates slung barbs at each other over campaign donations, energy policy, the war in Iraq and immigration policy. The theme that emerged is one that will play out time and again through November: flip-flopping.

The two candidates came to the debate, staged to a standing-room-only crowd at the Clark County Library on Flamingo, having scoured each other’s lengthy legislative records, using various votes to cast doubt on each other’s integrity.

Titus, an outgoing state senator, billed herself as an “independent voice for Nevada” and branded Porter as a “rubber stamp for President Bush’s failed policies.” Porter, who noted his work — as a Boulder City councilman and then mayor, state senator and congressman — on a variety of projects, fired back, calling into question Titus’ integrity and painting her as patently political.

It was brutal.

Analysts expect nothing less. The race is one of the most competitive in the country.

Porter, a three-term incumbent, faces the toughest challenge of his career. The political winds are against him. In 2006, he eked out a victory over challenger Tessa Hafen, winning by less than 4,000 votes when voter registration was evenly split. Today Democrats outnumber Republicans by 25,400 voters.

Monday night’s encounter made clear that the two candidates will be reaching for independents, who make up 15 percent of the district’s electorate and could decide the race.

On energy, both candidates support offshore drilling, saying any oil extracted must stay in the United States. Still, Porter attacked Titus, citing her vote against a state Senate resolution last year that called on Bush to lift the federal moratorium on offshore drilling.

“A year ago she voted no; today she’s for it,” Porter said. “I don’t think we can afford that type of leadership.”

Titus countered that the resolution gave oil companies “carte blanche” and was passed without any checks. She then hit Porter for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from oil companies while voting to award those companies billions of dollars in tax breaks. Neither prices nor production has improved, she said.

Porter, in turn, cited a campaign contribution he said Titus had taken from the scandal-ridden Enron “while (the company) was taking advantage of Nevada seniors.” Titus called the charge “ridiculous,” saying she had accepted the $5,000 check “before there was any scandal or suspicion of scandal.” She said she later donated the money to charity.

On the conflict between Russia and Georgia, both candidates said they supported diplomacy to resolve the conflict, including possible economic sanctions on Russia.

Pushed by Sun columnist Jon Ralston, who moderated the debate, on whether U.S. troops should be sent to Georgia, Porter said, “We need to do whatever we can to provide civilian aid and to show strength. If they need help, then we need to be there to help them, but then get home as soon as possible.”

Titus used the question as an opening to talk about the war in Iraq: “We don’t have any troops to send. We are bogged down in the Middle East.”

She criticized Porter for his support of the Bush administration’s policies and said she favored a timetable for an Iraq withdrawal. She declined to be more specific. She also said Iraq should use its oil revenues to help pay for its reconstruction.

Porter emphasized that he had “inherited the war” (he was not yet in Congress when lawmakers voted to give Bush authority) but noted that over his four trips he had seen the situation improve. He said the United States must “stabilize that region” and bring troops home “as quickly as possible.”

Both candidates support immigration reform in principle but differ on one major point: a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Porter calls that provision “amnesty” but favors a guest worker program. Titus favors a pathway that would require immigrants to pay a fine and back taxes, learn English, and have a job and a sponsor lined up.

The free-wheeling exchange was sponsored by Congregation Ner Tamid.

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