Last Friday night the League of Women Voters of Northern Nevada hosted a debate as the fourth in a series of 2020 election forums. The hour-long event featured candidates for Nevada’s U.S. 2nd Congressional District race: incumbent and five-term Congress member Mark Amodei (R) of Carson City and challenger Patricia Ackerman (D) of Douglas County in their only debate of this election cycle.
The event was live-streamed by National Grassroots Broadcasting Network with the Carson Appeal for voters to watch. In-person attendance was limited to those connected to the campaigns, affiliate organizations, media and League of Women Voter staff to follow social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The auditorium would normally be jam-packed at an event such as this, making the sparse crowd a stark reminder of the moment in time in which this election is taking place.
The two candidates pleaded their case on a number of topics, including healthcare, trade policy, the federal COVID-19 response, wildfires and wildland fire policy, and even legalization of marijuana. Ackerman and Amodei were each successful in landing several hard hits on one another on issues near and dear to them.
Ackerman came out strong at the start by attacking Amodei for supporting President Trump’s trade wars, and blaming both Amodei and the president for the economic pain it has caused for rural farmers. She further attacked Amodei for supporting the president’s tax reform bill in 2018, which she said contributed to greater economic inequity and favored the high-income earners at the expense of lower-income earners.
Ackerman also attacked Amodei for failing to be present in Washington D.C. for an August vote on a funding bill for the U.S. Postal Service that would impact mail-in voting — near the same time Nevada legislators sat in a special session crafting and passing Assembly Bill 4 to permit mail-in-voting.
In response, Amodei spent the duration of his rebuttal explaining his record on voting in support of balancing the postal service’s long-term liability budget and other long-term reforms while in federal service in Washington.
Amodei had a few good punches for Ackerman as well, but rather than answering her charges specifically, he demonstrated his results and record in Washington. When attacked on CARES Act funding and his lack of support for Nevada, Amodei reminded the public that he and other legislators have been pushing to get nearly $130 billion left in the fund to state and local government agencies to help support COVID-19 efforts. When attacked on immigration and civility, he brought up his collaboration with Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) to find a solution-based approach on immigration. Amodei also touted his membership in the Bipartisan Problem Solver caucus as an example of working across party lines.
The congressman had an interesting statement on campaigns and campaign finance policy as well. “If you want to fix politics you should outlaw campaign consultants! You appear to use quite a few of them,” he said, referencing Ackerman’s campaign team.
Please don’t rely exclusively on the social media…Be as well informed as you can.”
Amodei appeared to be ready for the swings and hits in the debate on Friday. This race is one of the more challenging in his nearly nine years in Congress, and only the second time he has faced a female opponent. In 2011, when he first ran for the seat, he faced former Nevada State Treasurer Kate Marshall (D), who’s now Nevada’s lieutenant governor.
What was extremely interesting about Friday’s debate compared to years past in this district is that this was a quite spirited one. As an observer of this district for many years, this has been one of the more interesting debate performances I’ve seen in a long time.
In an interview with This Is Reno after the event, Amodei said voters would ultimately rate his performance in the debate.
“You know what, you never know,” he said. “I mean, you can feel like you did awful. You can feel you did great…The voters will decide how I did tonight, and those folks that were undecided that watched. For those folks that were decided, I’m guessing that nobody changed their minds. I mean, it’s a pretty polarized time so we’ll see what happens when they count the votes.”
Ackerman seemed energized when speaking to This Is Reno after the debate.
“I think I did well,” she said. “I would have loved the opportunity to answer a lot more questions, because there’s so many other issues that are critically important that we didn’t have the opportunity to address: veterans, Native Americans, homelessness. And a whole list more. [There’s] a lot that I want to hit the mark on. Overall, I think that it was a good, spirited debate between the two of us.”
Amodei also urged voters to do their homework and become well-informed before casting their votes.
“Please don’t rely exclusively on the social media, please don’t relax. It’s like, hey, if you got a question, then find out the answer. We’re here for that. I’m sure that Patricia is too…Be as well informed as you can,” he said.
Ackerman agreed that she’s availalble to answer questions and speak with voters, and would continue to be if elected. She circled back to the criticism she lodged during the debate that Amodei isn’t available to voters or in Washington to do his job.
“We have clearly heard from hundreds, hundreds of people who said that they have tried to call him. They’ve sent emails, and there’s no responses from him,” she said.
Ackerman added that she’d like constituents to have the opposite experience and has handed out her personal cell phone number to people who want to reach out with questions.
“I’m there for you,” she said. “I have an open heart policy…and certainly an open door too.”
Don Dike-Anukam is a Reno native attending college in northern Nevada. He has been involved in activist politics for 15 years on and off, and has been involved in multiple campaigns in multiple positions in that time. He also was a college radio political, news, and talk-show host covering a range of stories from hostage standoffs, fires, interviews, and public speeches.