The first of three debates between Nevada’s gubernatorial candidates focused on education and occurred Sunday evening at the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas.
Democratic candidate Rory Reid, down by 10 to 20 points in recent polls, aggressively criticized his opponent in between sharing warm anecdotal stories pulled from conversations with teachers, parents, and children. Republican Brian Sandoval was more matter-of-fact and reserved, taking a diplomatic approach that included calling Reid’s plan “good” while saying it does not go far enough. Sandoval generally avoided counter-attacking while arguing that many of Reid’s claims were untrue.
Reid jabbed at Sandoval throughout the debate, calling him “a nice man” but a “weak leader” as well as “misinformed.” Reid repeatedly insisted Sandoval wants to “cut education” and “lay off teachers.” Reid also tried to tie Sandoval to U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle, who has said she wants to slowly defund and eventually eliminate the federal Education Department.
Sandoval’s one moment of open annoyance came as Reid repeatedly referred to a short-term budget proposal Sandoval offered during the primary and hammered him with questions about cuts. Sandoval interrupted Reid’s litany, quipping, “This isn’t a math test. This is about education.” He also often referred to his opponent as “Mr. Reid,” using the toxicity of the surname to score easy political points.
Both Sandoval and Reid support some kind of school choice and greater local control of schools, but only Sandoval supports vouchers. Sandoval maintains that school funding is adequate but inefficiently spent; Reid says schools need more money but not until revenue flows in as a result of his plan to improve the state’s economy. Sandoval supports ending teacher tenure so poor performing teachers can “move on,” while Reid says he is “open” to looking at tenure but stops short of endorsing the idea.
Little was said about how either candidate plans to implement their ideas while also cutting a state budget expected to be upside-down by roughly $3 billion in the next biennium. Both candidates simply stuck to their general proposals, insisting during the debate and post-debate press gaggles that they will find ways to improve things on the little to no money available. Reid said after the debate that if revenue comes in below current projections he will “adjust” his plan; Sandoval said he thinks his projections are close to correct and is “optimistic.”
The debate yielded no gaffes or obvious game changers so the poll numbers will in all likelihood remain the same.