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September 2, 2014

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POLITICAL NOTEBOOK:

The off-camera drama told a story, too

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Shirley Breeden traded barbs with state Sen. Joe Heck at their October 2008 debate.

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Allison Copening spars with state Sen. Bob Beers in a debate Thursday.

If it wasn’t evident that the two tightly competitive state Senate races in the region had become frosty affairs, with little or zero friendliness between the opponents, the debates Thursday made the notion clear as ice.

The actual 15-minute debates on Vegas PBS, KLVX-Channel 10 — between GOP Sen. Bob Beers and his Democratic challenger, Allison Copening, and between Republican Sen. Joe Heck and his opponent, Shirley Breeden — provided an opportunity for a few nasty brickbats.

None of the four missed an opportunity to throw some mud. Beers, without saying so directly, basically compared Copening to a roof rat; Copening, in essence, called Beers a chronic liar who routinely falsifies statistics to win elections.

Heck claimed Breeden was behind the “smear campaign” against him, which would be illegal if true. For her part, Breeden implied that Heck, a doctor, cared not a whit about preventive medicine, or for making sure that the region’s medical facilities were properly inspected.

But none of these things showed the evident dislike the opponents had for each other as did their off-camera, pre- and post-debate demeanor.

While waiting several minutes for each debate to start, the two sets of opponents stared straight ahead, silently. Though they were standing just a few feet apart, none acknowledged the other’s presence.

After the Beers-Copening debate, Copening turned toward her opponent and offered her hand. It’s unclear if Beers, who was straightening some papers in front of him, initially saw the gesture. A moment passed before he took it.

— Sam Skolnik

•••

Surrogate battles are interesting side shows in this campaign, and one in which — by the numbers, anyway — Democrat Barack Obama’s campaign is winning.

One relevant backer for Obama, campaigning in Reno on Thursday, was Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat.

As governor of a ruby red state, Sebelius noted that 15 states that voted for President Bush in 2004 have Democratic governors. (Nevada, which went for Bush over Sen. John Kerry, is obviously not one of them.)

“There’s no question, the number one issue right now is the economy,” she said. “What Sen. Obama is proposing is resonating with voters.”

Republicans are hammering Obama on taxes, saying he will raise them, a refrain common in statewide political races against Democrats.

Asked how a Democrat can get over that “tax-and-spend liberal” charge, Sebelius said, “I have always talked about investing in our citizens.”

She said she refused to sign “no new tax” pledges or commit to across-the-board cuts.

“Even in red states like Kansas, people understand it’s critical to invest in its citizens. Cuts in education, for example, are much more serious, than say, overhead for a road project,” she said.

Sebelius said vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who is scheduled to appear in Reno and Henderson on Tuesday, only momentarily energized the base and alienated some independent voters. “It narrowed the base,” she said.

Sen. Joe Biden is scheduled to be in Henderson today and Bill Clinton will visit the state on Sunday and Monday.

— David McGrath Schwartz

•••

Two prominent Republicans whose names had been floated as potential gubernatorial candidates in 2010, have begged off the race.

Dean Heller, in a recent interview with the Las Vegas Sun, answered with a definitive “no” when asked whether he was considering a run for governor.

Jim Rogers, the chancellor for the state’s higher education system, also said in a recent interview he wasn’t interested.

“I do not want to be governor under any circumstances. I’ve put in my time for the state. I’ve done enough. And that’s it,” said Rogers, who has sparred in numerous memos with Gov. Jim Gibbons over budget cuts to the state’s colleges and universities.

“I’m not a political person,” Rogers added. “I don’t need that kind of adulation. I need support from people, but I don’t need the adulation that people who run for public office seem to need.”

Gibbons, a Republican, has had a scandal- and gaffe-plagued two years in office, causing some in GOP circles to speculate about who else could run in 2010. Gibbons has maintained that he will seek reelection.

— David McGrath Schwartz and Charlotte Hsu

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