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POLITICS:

Rory Reid, Brian Sandoval debate on education reforms

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Rory Reid holds up a legal pad with a figure he says represents the cuts that Brian Sandoval’s education plan would result in during a debate on education between the gubernatorial candidates Sunday, August 29, 2010.

Updated Sunday, Aug. 29, 2010 | 10:25 p.m.

Reid vs. Sandoval - Education

Rory Reid and Brian Sandoval shake hands following a debate on education between the gubernatorial candidates Sunday, August 29, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Sun Coverage

Both gubernatorial candidates did what they had to do during Sunday night's debate on education: Democrat Rory Reid attacked, and tried to poke holes in his opponent's education plan. Republican Brian Sandoval remained calm and avoided major gaffes.

Voters may feel they emerged the big losers of the night, listening to an hour of the same rhetoric they’ve been hearing all along and learning little about what the next governor will do to save Nevada's schools.

Neither Reid nor Sandoval provided any substantive detail about how they would improve education while cutting the state budget, hold principals accountable for poor performance or force unionized teachers to take pay cuts.

Instead, they quibbled over numbers and repeated — over and over again — the generalized approaches they set forth in their education plans.

Even moderator Dave Courvoisier, of debate cosponsor KLAS-TV Channel 8, called out the candidates halfway through the debate. "Both of you have said, 'Let's be very specific,' but neither of you have been," Courvoisier said.

Generally speaking, Sandoval says funding for schools is adequate but money should be spent more wisely. Reid says schools need more money. Both Sandoval and Reid support giving parents opportunities to select which schools their children attend, but Sandoval would offer vouchers so children could attend private schools.

Throughout the debate, Reid tried hard to goad Sandoval. He called him weak and misinformed, and likened him to U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle, who has said she wants to eliminate the federal Education Department. Reid twice described Sandoval's statements as a "Hallmark card" — "it sounds real nice but there's not much substance to it" — and held up a yellow notepad with "$533 million" written on it, to bait Sandoval to account for what Reid says are Sandoval's proposed education cuts.

Nary a question went by that Reid didn't try to redirect back to Sandoval, sounding after while like his mantra: Sandoval's plan would cut. Sandoval's plan would cut. Sandoval's plan would cut.‬‪

Take, for instance, the most scripted moments of any debate: the opening and closing statements. Reid focused on Sandoval, calling him a "weak leader" in both the start and end of the debate. Sandoval took the high road, or more accurately played the role of the prohibitive favorite not wanting to change the tenor of the debate. He didn't mention Rory a single time in the opening or closing statement.‬‪

This, of course, reflects the polls. Reid is down anywhere from 10 to 20 points according to polls, despite his aggressive television campaign and Sandoval's virtual silence in paid media since the primary. Reid had little choice but to be aggressive, or provoke Sandoval into a misstep.‬‪

Sandoval seemed to mostly avoid that. Though Reid seemed more comfortable, joked and dropped the names of principals and teachers, Sandoval avoided any glaring mistake.‬‪

One minor gaffe: As Reid pelted him with questions about budget cuts to school, Sandoval cut in, saying "this isn't a math test. This is about education."

Still, there were no game-changing moments, said Fred Lokken, a professor of political science at Truckee Meadow Community College.

"In essence, what we see in Sandoval is someone who's desperately trying to play it safe. He's tested all these things, and until the polls change, that's what we're going to see," Lokken said.

Click to enlarge photo

Brian Sandoval listens to Rory Reid during a debate on education between the gubernatorial candidates Sunday, August 29, 2010.

Sandoval's best shots came in referring to his opponent as "Mr. Reid" — Rory's dad is the unpopular Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — and by pointing out correctly that Reid's support of furloughs includes K-12 and higher education personnel. Simply put, Reid's contention that he wouldn't cut education is not borne out by the plan he released last week, which includes a $480 million saving by continuing furloughs.‬‬

Lokken said Reid came across as more confident, more "in command of information and seemingly able to understand it and explain it." Sandoval, on the other hand, "could have been scripted from a conservative think tank," Lokken said.

But UNLV political science professor David Damore said Reid missed opportunities to highlight his leadership and budget experience as Clark County commissioner. Instead, he focused on telling stories about bus drivers and teachers he has met on the campaign trail.

Click to enlarge photo

Reporters question Rory Reid after his debate on education issues with Brian Sandoval Sunday, August 29, 2010.

"He kept coming back to all these anecdotes and archetypes," Damore said. "That doesn't play to his strengths. He's not Bill Clinton. He's not Barack Obama. He's trying to get away from his wonk image, but that's his strength."

When, for example, the candidates were asked how they would compel unionized teachers to take pay cuts, Reid failed to point out that he recently took on the firefighters union.

Reid did have one upper hand. In the audience of the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy were dozens of Reid staffers and volunteers who were louder and more aggressive than Sandoval supporters. As the candidates stood onstage waiting for the debate to begin, the Reid camp stomped their feet and chanted, "Rory, Rory" until moderators quieted them.

Sandoval raised his mouth into a tight smile, looking annoyed. Reid grinned, turned to Sandoval and simply shrugged.

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