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Cortez Masto talks bipartisanship, issues in race for Reid's seat

As the Nevada Senate race continues, Catherine Cortez Masto holds a roundtable discussion with local students about college affordability and the amount fo debt they're walking away with. 4/26/2016 [Jeff Gillan/KSNV]

Not that there's any pressure on her.

Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada's former two-term Attorney General and Harry Reid's handpicked candidate, didn't look like she had the eyes of the Democratic Party on her as she worked the room Tuesday at the Cambridge Community Center.

The event was a roundtable with young people talking about college affordability. Leading the discussion was Cortez Masto, whose campaign is critical to Democrats recapturing the US Senate, where a swing of five seats would put them back in control.

The young people in front of her spoke of working full-time jobs, balancing a full-time load of classes. Their comments found a receptive ear in the Democratic candidate.

"I don't think the Federal Government should be making money off of students and through student loans," Cortez Masto told me afterward. "I think we should be capping the interest. I think we should be able to refinance those loans. I think they should be lower interest," she continued.

The election is in 196 days. There will be dozens of events like this until November.

Cortez Masto is running against a popular three-term Republican incumbent, Joe Heck, who has fought back Democratic challenges in Congressional District 3 ever since he won in the midterm election of 2010.

"You just have to look at his voting record. He has voted against Pell grants. He has not worked to address the issue of college affordability," she charged, pointing to Heck's vote on the last budget, which Democrats say would eliminate mandatory funding for Pell grants and freeze spending at their current levels.

The Heck campaign says the Republican, who is still paying off his medical school loans, supports making college more affordable. "He worked to pass bipartisan, landmark legislation reforming and capping student loan interest rates for students and parents. Dr. Heck also introduced a bill to make the financial aid process easier for families, so more students can access the assistance they need to pursue higher education," Heck's spokesperson, Brian Baluta, said in a statement to News 3.

Democrats say Heck is eager to tow the GOP line in the House of Representatives. In a quick recitation of issues, Cortez Masto highlighted issues that will get more play as the race progresses.

"Congressman Heck is opposed to comprehensive immigration reform. He's voted three times against equal pay for women. He's opposed to increasing the minimum wage. I mean you can just go down the list," she told me.

The rebuttal from Heck would be he's supported immigration reform and has spoken out against his own party at its delay passing legislation. The campaign says he supports equal pay. He does not agree with raising the minimum wage because he believes it will kill jobs.

On the Affordable Care Act, which Heck wants to repeal and replace, Cortez Masto wants to keep and fix.

"It's good law. We have more people that have insurance because of it. Is it perfect? No," she said. "So where there are problems with it, and how we can fix it, and move it and improve it for everyone, that's where it starts for me. That's the starting point."

In a year where terrorism and foreign policy loom large, Republicans have criticized the administration, specifically its deal with Iran to curb the country's nuclear ambitions. Cortez Masto says the deal is sound policy.

"Not only do we prevent them from having nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future, we are blanketing their country with inspectors," she said.

If she gets to Washington, how would she build bipartisanship as one Senator in a chamber of 100?

"That's been my career," she told me, referring to her tenure as Attorney General. "Over the course of those eight years I introduced 40 bills that I sponsored in the legislative process, and they were all supported and passed with Republicans and Democrats and signed by a Republican Governor."

It's a track record she says she'd take to Washington. We'll find out in 196 days if she gets there.


Connect with Jeff Gillan on Twitter @JGillanNews3LV and on Facebook!

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