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Democrats go after GOP-leaning Nevada district

Cristina Silva

The Democrat with the best shot of winning a northern Nevada congressional district is a longtime party activist who isn't reluctant to slam President Barack Obama's economic policies.

State Treasurer Kate Marshall said Obama's health care law is flawed, his deficit plan is weak and he needs to do more to create jobs.

It's not the typical rhetoric of a candidate who has Washington's Democratic elite in her corner. But when you're a Democrat running in a congressional district that's only ever elected a Republican, grabbing onto the president's coattails isn't exactly an option.

"I am running to win it," Marshall told The Associated Press.

Her centrist campaign endorsed by Washington insiders illustrates Democrats' eagerness to overtake a GOP-leaning seat crammed with conservative, rural voters. There will be no primary and the special election could be open to an unlimited number of candidates, a scenario that Democrats hope will divide the Republican vote and unite Democratic votes behind one winner.

The other well-known Democrat in the race, former university regent Nancy Price, is a longshot who hopes to win on a liberal platform and emulate anti-war activist Rep. Dennis Kucinich once elected. Price lost to Republican U.S. Rep. Dean Heller last year. His appointment last month to the U.S. Senate created the House vacancy.

"In a heavily Republican leaning district, you can't say in many cases that (Obama) is doing a great job when a large portion of the voting population might disagree with you," said Kenneth Fernandez, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "The centrist position is the smart position."

Marshall, a longtime Democratic activist who cheered on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2008, has adopted a moderate approach in a district that includes the conservative, rural counties that have typically shunned her and other Democrats in the past.

Businesses and unions are concerned about the health care law passed last year by Congress and signed into law by Obama, she said.

"We don't really know what the long-term effect will be," Marshall said. "I don't hear anybody say it has done for them, at least to date, that it has done what it set out to do, which is lower costs."

Marshall, however, said she does not support Republican efforts to immediately overturn the law, because doing so would also not address ballooning health care costs.

She criticized a Republican plan to lower the national deficit but expressed concerns about Obama's deficit solution.

"His budget deficit plan does not go far enough," Marshall said. "Any plan that we come up with has to be a bipartisan plan. You are not going to succeed in coming up with a plan that is just simply a Republican plan or a Democratic plan."

Marshall said the $787 billion stimulus passed under Obama's administration helped Nevada fund public education as the state budget shrank. But the program focused on unambitious projects that created too few jobs, she said.

"Part of the problem was that there wasn't a lot of accountability," Marshall said. "Repaving doesn't really get us there, right?"

Washington Republicans dismissed Marshall's so-called moderate sensibilities as an election-year mask.

"Nevadans simply cannot trust Marshall to stand up to her party's big-spending agenda in Washington," said Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Price, meanwhile, is embracing her liberal leanings. Taxes for the rich are too low, the country is spending too much on wars it shouldn't be fighting and the health care law is a good step toward "Medicare for all," she said. Price said she represents a "corporate-free voice" in an electoral process dominated by big-money donors.

"I know the game," she said. "I don't play it."

The special election rules are being contested by the Nevada GOP, which wants to limit the contest to candidates nominated by major political parties, a move that would eliminate Democrats' perceived advantage in the crowded special election. At least 30 candidates are vying for the title so far.

The Nevada Supreme Court could decide by the end of the month whether the race will be confined to party nominees or an open contest in which the top vote-getter is sent to Washington.

In preparation, party leaders from both sides are meeting this month to elect a nominee, and Marshall is expected to secure her party's vote when statewide Democrats convene in Reno on June 25.

"We can move the country in the right direction right now by standing with my friend Kate," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada's de facto Democratic leader, told Marshall supporters this month in a fundraising letter.


Cristina Silva can be reached at .

The Associated Press