Five takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada

Five takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada
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Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (R) and freshman Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenHillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Senators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (D) clashed over health care, gun control and President TrumpDonald John TrumpWHCA calls on Trump to denounce video depicting him shooting media outlets Video of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Trump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage MORE on Friday night in the first and only debate of their Nevada Senate race.

The candidates lobbed accusations at each other, talked over one another and laughed incredulously at their rival's answers at various points throughout the hourlong debate.

The tense atmosphere onstage in Las Vegas reflected how close the candidates are in polls and the negative tone of the race. 

Heller, who is Democrats' top GOP target in the Senate, leads by less than 2 points in the Real Clear Politics polling index while outside groups have poured more than $40 million into the race, according to The Center for Responsive Politics.

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Here are five takeaways from the debate:

Heller embraces Trump

Rosen repeatedly called Heller a “rubber stamp” for Trump and argued that Nevadans need to elect someone who will serve as a check and balance, echoing an argument Democratic candidates have made across the country.

But instead of running away from Trump, Heller embraced the president, arguing that his relationship with him could help the state.

At one point, Heller was asked to explain his statement during the 2016 campaign that he was “99 percent” against Trump but now supports him on many issues.

Heller argued that Trump’s success, particularly his management of the economy, changed his mind.

“It’s true. Ask the president. We fought like cats and dogs. What happened was success. What happened was success. He became president of the United States, we started working together,” he said.

“I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t agree with everything he says, but I do agree with most of what he does. He has been incredible on this economy. He’s done a great job,” he added. 

Rosen scores her biggest hit on health care

Rosen’s most effective moment came at the end of the debate when she challenged Heller to look into the camera and tell a family he met with last year why he “broke” his promise to protect people with pre-existing conditions. 

Rosen made reference to Teresa Bohannan in Reno, whom Heller met with last year and promised that he would save ObamaCare’s protections for her son Dean, who was born with a congenital heart defect, a pre-existing condition that could affect his insurance rates for the rest of his life.

“Then you went back to Washington and you broke your promise. You caved,” Rosen said. 

Heller responded that he helped draft a Republican bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare that would have maintained some protections for people with pre-existing conditions. 

“I have two grandchildren with pre-existing conditions. I think it's ridiculous, congresswoman, that you think that I wouldn't be there for the health and safety of my own grandchildren,” he answered.

Rosen’s campaign immediately issued a press release accusing Heller of lying, pointing to a vote he took in 2011 to repeal the Affordable Care Act and a vote this month to support the Trump administration's efforts to promulgate low-cost insurance plans, which Democrats say are really “junk” plans.

Heller stumbles on earmarks

Heller claimed in the debate that he never supported earmarks, the congressionally directed spending provisions that former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidReid warns Democrats not to underestimate Trump Harry Reid predicts Trump, unlike Clinton, won't become more popular because of impeachment Al Franken to host SiriusXM radio show MORE (D-Nev.) once used to steer tens of millions of dollars to Nevada. 

“I haven’t supported earmarks since I’ve been in Washington, D.C.,” Heller declared. “We need to strengthen the economy. We don’t need more earmarks."

But it was a stumble for Heller, who quickly backtracked and apologized after being challenged by moderator Steve Sebelius, the host of KLAS-TV's "Politics Now."

Heller scrambled to explain that he has supported an earmark ban ever since Republicans implemented it after taking back the House in 2010.

“I was mistaken on that,” he said. “When I was first in Congress, yes, we did have earmarks, I think for the first couple of sessions. After that we banned it and I’ve supported the ban since. I apologize for making that error.”

Candidates draw contrast on gun control, federal lands 

The Senate candidates had one of their clearest policy disagreements when asked whether background checks should be expanded to private sales and transfers, such as was proposed by Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by USAA — Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies Trump pushed for her ouster GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Fallout from Kavanaugh confirmation felt in Washington one year later MORE (D-W.Va.) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns MORE (R-Pa.) after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Rosen said she supports expanding background checks to private sales and restricting the sale of extra-capacity ammunition clips while Heller stated his support for the Second Amendment.

“This question couldn't put two candidates further apart from each other. I do support the Second Amendment and I will not do anything that will take guns away from law-abiding citizens,” Heller said, adding that he would prefer to make sure that people with “mental problems” have limited access to firearms.

Heller tried to deflect any criticism he might take for not supporting universal background checks by touting his role in helping to pass the Fix NICS Act to encourage law enforcement to more readily share information with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). 

Asked directly if he supports background checks for all gun sales, Heller said, “No. I do not. I believe in the Second Amendment and I will not restrict law-abiding citizens here in this country."

But then he added, “I will do expanded background checks. And that’s what the Fix NICS system was all about.”

On federal lands, Heller highlighted his work on deals to open federal lands to private development, which he said would allow communities to expand and reduce the cost of housing. 

“I am working on four right now. Four land deals,” Heller said. “I want to know how many you are working on, because what we are trying to do is expand the footprints of these cities so that we can expand housing and make it easier for us to lower the costs of housing here in the state of Nevada.” 

Rosen countered by arguing that federal lands in Nevada and the tourism they draw are a major source of economic activity in the state. 

“What we need to do is keep our public lands in public hands. I want to tell you that our outdoor tourism industry is so vibrant. It’s nearly 150,000 jobs and it’s millions of dollars in tax revenue throughout the state,” she said. 

Heller touts Senate experience as a major asset

Heller emphasized his record and seniority in the Senate and relationship with Trump in an attempt to put Rosen, who has served less than two years in the House, on the defensive over her relative lack of experience in Congress.

The Heller campaign blasted out an email early in the debate claiming that Heller has “delivered over 100 pieces of legislation signed into law for Nevadans.”

His campaign also hit Rosen for claiming she has put her name on 50 bills that have passed the House, challenging her to say how many became law and how many she wrote.

Rosen admitted that she has limited experience in Congress but she tried to portray herself as someone less tainted by partisan politics, emphasizing her bipartisan record as a member of the House Problem Solvers Caucus.

She also tried to turn Heller’s experience against him by calling him “a career politician” and out of touch with regular Nevadans.