AP Photo/Jim Cole
Tuesday, June 14, 2011 | 6:49 a.m.
- Debate over creating jobs splits parties in Washington (6-7-11)
- Nevada elections could determine control of U.S. House, Senate (6-2-11)
- CNN will host Republican presidential primary debate in Las Vegas (4-6-11)
- Republican presidential field starts to cozy up to Nevada GOP (3-23-11)
- Mitt Romney leads in Nevada Republican presidential primary poll (1-11-11)
- Nevada Republicans set 2012 presidential caucus date (12-16-10)
WASHINGTON -- The Republican field of presidential contenders is coming into focus, and on Monday night, seven of the most serious candidates gathered on a CNN stage in Manchester, N.H., to field first-primary staters’ questions in the first nationally televised frontrunners’ debate.
But Republicans are not all made alike, and what sells in a Manchester auditorium doesn't necessarily resonate across the airwaves to future caucus-goers in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, or Las Vegas, who also will get an early, nationally swaying say in selecting the GOP’s presidential pick.
To get a sense of what impression Nevadans are likely to take from this inaugural showing, we lined up three of the Silver State’s most seasoned Republican analysts to post-game the show: blogger Chuck Muth, adviser Robert Uithoven and former Gov. Bob List.
All three noted that whatever New Hampshire’s billing, this was a primary that was unmistakably national in nature.
That made the issues de facto “90 percent relevant for Nevada,” as List put it. “Although the debate was held in New Hampshire, and there were some local references there, this debate could have taken place anywhere.”
The same goes for the political jockeying between the candidates, Uithoven added.
“In Nevada, it’s very similar to where things are nationally: it’s going to be, can somebody come here and compete with Mitt Romney,” he said.
And that, Muth said, is precisely why the face-off won’t help Silver Staters get any closer to a decision.
“The problem I came away with was that so many of the questions were of a general election nature,” he said. “They asked questions to pit Republican vs. Obama, rather than Republican vs. Republican.”
It should be noted that Muth is part of the team that’s soliciting the same candidates to appear in a debate sponsored by the Conservative Leadership Conference and the Daily Caller in Las Vegas next month (they’ve only received tentative acceptances from the candidates so far). That event is one of two national debates that will be heading Nevada's way over the next several months: CNN plans to broadcast another one of these debates from Las Vegas in October, during the Western Republican Leadership Conference.
But the characterization of the event isn’t off: while the candidates spewed a chorus of vitriol for President Obama’s politics and policies, they directed almost no harsh words at each other, even where they disagreed.
Romney credited his colleagues for making good points. Pawlenty all but apologetically backpedaled on the term “Obamneycare” he’d used to liken the former Massachusetts governor’s statewide health care plan to Obama’s health care law, a favorite subject of revulsion for the GOP. No one took a swipe at Newt Gingrich for his suggestion that the rest of the GOP may be misguided in backing the changes to Medicare first outlined under Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan, or the public implosion of his campaign last week.
THE ISSUES ADDRESSED
That left a lot up to careful listening, inference and reading between the lines -- which our panel of analysts hoped aloud Republicans would clarify by the time the field moves west.
On the economy, for instance, it was difficult to differentiate between each candidate’s pro-private sector, pro-growth, jobs-repatriating and tax-lowering scheme. The same goes for Medicare, which Democrats already have identified as a winner, and have pledged to hammer home on the campaign trail against any Republican -- starting with the upcoming special election in Nevada.
“What plays best, politically? The answer would be ‘oh, don’t mess with Medicare’ -- that would be the right political answer,” List said. “But whether it’s political or not, the reality, which is going to be a hard sell, is that this thing is on a pace to go bankrupt.”
“Every night in front of a national audience Republicans can explain to people there is no Plan B, every night we have that opportunity, we need to take it,” Uithoven said. “I wish Paul Ryan would run, personally. He could articulate it better than anyone else in the party.”
On social issues, there was also a lot of white noise: the pro-life panel of Republican candidates weren’t pressed to commit to a definition of abortion including or not including cases of rape or incest (only Pawlenty offered that there are exceptions to every rule), and on gay marriage, all spoke in shades of a constitutional amendment (only Bachmann said short of an amendment, she would leave state laws alone).
But our Nevada commentators saw plenty of potential for future debates in some of the sleeper issues that may have only earned a passing mention in New Hampshire on Monday night, but could have serious resonance in Nevada if explored more fully.
“The one that really caught my attention was the question on housing: Ron Paul said we need to stop propping up housing values and let them sink so we can clear the inventory,” Muth said. “I think he’ll come to Vegas and say the same thing. It doesn’t help the folks, obviously, who have lost equity in their homes, but by letting the prices return back to market level would help clear the vacant stock. The market works.”
“That kind of rhetoric has a tremendous audience nowadays beause many people have gone through it, they’ve experienced it, both from losing their homes to people who are on the verge of losing their homes,” Uithoven said. “I think people in the real estate market in Nevada realize there’s a lot of inventory that needs to be filled before things will stabilize ... but you don’t need to go beyond that, because I don’t think Ron Paul is going to be the Republican nominee.”
The discussions about the military’s foreign engagements -- and here is a place where the candidates did seem to widely differ -- could also be much bigger in Nevada than New Hampshire, the experts thought.
“That’s a very important issue to Nevada, both from the standpoint of our military families at Nellis and Fallon, but all of us concerned about the safety and the future security of our nation,” List said, adding that he thought Pawlenty and Romney had the most comprehensive thoughts on military policy.
“They asked on bombings in Libya and Yemen -- in Nevada, a more relevant question would be to ask these candidates what their opinion is on the use of unmanned drones, because of Creech Air Force Base,” Muth said. “There’s a local component that should be addressed and talked about here.”
And on immigration, Republican commentators agreed, the candidates would have to get a lot deeper for a Nevada audience. Nevada’s Hispanic population is growing not only as a part of the demographic, but as a percentage of the electorate -- one of the key reasons it was selected as an early caucus state.
“The question you gotta dig down deep on, the unanswered question that they didn’t press everybody on, is let’s say you close down the border. What do you do with the 12 to 20 million illegals already here?” Muth said. “In Las Vegas, that’s a serious, serious question, because you’d shut down the hotel industry if you deported all the illegals here.”
List said he thought only Gingrich -- a middle-of-the-pack candidate at best -- gave the question the full consideration it was due.
“He spoke from the heart. He hit it head on,” List said. “I thought he was very realistic: you do this piece by piece, starting with securing the border ... but you’ve got to have a heart for the people who are already in this country, as you begin to deal with the realities of the threat to our national security.”
In Nevada, Uithoven said, striking a balanced view is a necessity.
“I have yet to see an anti-immigration statewide campaign win,” Uithoven said. “I think a lot of it comes down to how the Republican candidate, whatever office it’s for, positions himself in dealing with a real problem and trying to reward people who come into the country the legal way, while trying to streamline it.”
WHAT WAS LEFT OUT
Despite the range of questions that moderator John King and a bevy of questioners zipped through, there were obvious holes for a Nevada audience trying to make a decision, our commentators thought, that ought to be filled when the show comes to a Las Vegas stage.
“I thought there could have been more conversation about energy and energy independence,” List said, remarking that hardly anyone discussed nuclear energy -- and there was certainly no mention of Yucca Mountain, the debate over which appears to be heating up in Congress once again. List also noted that the only alternative energy product that received mention was ethanol -- a nod to Iowa, but basically irrelevant to Nevada.
“For those of us in the west that are especially interested in that ... it could have gone a little deeper,” he said.
“Another question they have to ask in Nevada, that’s Nevada-specific but a federal issue, is about online gaming,” Muth added, referring to the ongoing debate in Congress about whether and how to re-jigger 2006’s Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act to allow for, at the very least, Internet poker to become a legal activity online.
But while it’s good to hear the candidates weigh in on local topics, some doubt that’s what the vote will come down to in the end.
“Every special interest has a constituency,” Uithoven said, ticking off a few of the subjects that received time during Monday’s debate. “The space program is Texas. Manufacturing, that seemed to be an appeal more to the industrial eastern portion of the country.
“But I’m not so sure the selection’s going to play out that way. You talk to seven candidates in two hours, and you’ll get into a lot of issues that wouldn’t make it to the back pages of the newspaper,” Uithoven said.