- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) - Republican candidates in an increasingly tense southern Nevada congressional race staked out positions Tuesday on when it’s OK to raise taxes, whether they’d support Donald Trump if he’s the party’s nominee and whether transgender people should be limited to certain bathrooms.

All seven GOP candidates for Republican Rep. Joe Heck’s seat participated in a forum hosted by the Southern Hills Republican Women’s Club and moderated by conservative talk radio host Alan Stock.

State Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson and businessman Danny Tarkanian have far outraised their opponents, with more than half a million dollars each in available campaign cash. The two front-runners take opposite positions on a $1.4 billion tax package backed by Gov. Brian Sandoval and passed last year by more than two-thirds of the Republican-controlled Legislature.

“Every economic development expert in this state came to us last session and said it’s great you’re a low-tax state … but until you improve one of the worst education systems in the country, you’re not going to get businesses to move here,” said Roberson, who played a major role in shepherding the package through the Legislature.

Tarkanian argued that Republicans squandered the “golden opportunity” they had when they swept the Assembly, Senate and constitutional offices for the first time in nearly a century.

“Instead of passing bills that were geared to the Republicans’ hearts like voter ID and many others, all we did was pass the largest tax increase in the state’s history,” Tarkanian said.

Candidates were asked whether they would support whoever the Republican Party nominates for president.

“I do intend to support the Republican nominee,” Roberson said. “I hope as a party we nominate someone who can actually win in November.”

Tarkanian said “of course” he’d support the nominee, adding that the next president would have the power to make one or more Supreme Court nominations.

“Any Republican who says they won’t (back the nominee) is such a disappointment,” Tarkanian said. “There’s nobody worse than Hillary Clinton except possibly Bernie Sanders.”

The 3rd Congressional District has a slim Democratic registration advantage but has been in GOP hands for six years and attracted a large field of Republican candidates.

One of the most recognizable is Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, who’s known for her love of guns and support of rancher Cliven Bundy. Other candidates include Andy Matthews, the former president of conservative think tank Nevada Policy Research Institute, and Dr. Annette Teijeiro, an anesthesiologist who lost a 2014 bid for the heavily Democratic 1st Congressional District.

Also running are Kerry Bowers, who was campaigning for president before pursuing the House seat, and Sami Khal.

Tarkanian has wide name recognition in the Las Vegas area as son of the late UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and president of a youth basketball academy. He’s run unsuccessfully in the past for state Senate, secretary of state, U.S. Senate and Congress.

Roberson has support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and high-ranking elected Republicans including Gov. Brian Sandoval but gets a chilly reception from grassroots Republicans upset by the tax hike.

Republicans will decide between the candidates in the June 14 primary.

Democrats competing for the seat include Jacky Rosen, who was recruited by Sen. Harry Reid and who leads a Henderson synagogue, and attorney Jesse Sbaih.

The 3rd Congressional District includes Henderson and parts of Las Vegas. About 38 percent of voters are registered Democratic, while about 37 percent are registered Republican.

Heck is vacating the seat to run for U.S. Senate.

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