NEVADA — In this state, where it’s legal to carry an unconcealed handgun, John Oceguera, the Speaker of the Nevada Assembly, didn’t even need to unholster his pistol to shoot himself in the foot.

He’d probably prefer to imagine taking aim at the messengers—the political journalists who roasted him on two television programs, and in print, this week.

Oceguera, a Democrat, is running to unseat a first-term incumbent Republican, Joe Heck, in the state’s 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses the Las Vegas suburbs. Though there’s a contested Democratic primary on June 12, Oceguera is the party’s presumptive nominee, and voters have, at least so far, heard little from the candidates about the issues.

Commentator and columnist Jon Ralston attempted to rectify that when he interviewed Oceguera Monday on “Face to Face,” his TV program that airs in markets around the state. After the broadcast, voters may have found themselves enlightened—not by what the office-seeker said, but by what he didn’t say.

Ralston, a respected, longtime observer of Nevada politics, led the interview with what had to be an obvious question for the Democrat: Did Oceguera support the Affordable Care Act, the signature policy achievement of President Obama’s term, whose future is now in question? The transcript alone is cringe-inducing:

Oceguera:“I think that anything that we can do that would put transparency into insurance companies is something we can work on…”

Ralston: “Is that a yes, you would have voted for the Affordable Care Act?”

Oceguera: “No, that’s a…”

Ralston: “You’re not going to commit to the Affordable Care Act?”

Oceguera: “You know, Jon, this is in front of the Supreme Court now. I don’t have a crystal ball. I think it would be premature to say what’s going to happen there, but…”

Ralston: “I’m not asking you to be Antonin Scalia. I’m asking you to be John Oceguera if you were in Congress. Joe Heck said no to the Affordable Care Act. Do you say yes?”

Oceguera: “What I say is if we can make health care more transparent, make insurance companies more transparent, and get the cost of health care down, then I’m for that.”

Ralston: “You are not going to commit to the singular achievement of Barack Obama’s first term, the Affordable Care Act? You’re not going to commit that you would’ve voted for it?”

Oceguera: “What I’m gonna commit to is we need more transparency in health care, and this is a step in that direction.”

The following day, after having had several hours to confer with campaign staff and sharpen his answers, Oceguera again found himself in the media’s sights. The Tuesday forum was “The Agenda,” a political talk show hosted by two veteran political columnists, the left-leaning Hugh Jackson and libertarian Elizabeth Crum. Despite their divergent outlooks, both appeared incredulous as Crum tried to pin down the Democrat:

Crum: “Why won’t you take a position on that one way or another and just say how you would have voted?”

Oceguera: “Well, because I’m trying to look forward. Everybody keeps trying to ask questions in the past… I’m trying to look forward and you know this is what I think. If the, if we can make health care more affordable, if we can make it more accessible, if we can make insurance companies more accountable, then I’m for that.”

Crum: “Do you think the Affordable Care Act, you’ve read the bill, I assume?”

Oceguera: “There are a number of provisions that do those things. So, because I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t know what’s going to happen at the Supreme Court—whether it’s here {in Nevada) or it isn’t here—those are things that I’ll fight for.”

In both interviews, the journalists’ questions were appropriate, and the follow-ups plentiful—which only brought Oceguera’s repeated equivocations into sharper relief.

But the damage wasn’t done even then, as Ralston lampooned the candidate in his Wednesday column for the Las Vegas Sun. The Sun is known as the liberal paper in this city, but the piece pulled no punches, starting with the headline, “Oceguera makes case for … Heck.” The column opened:

The inescapable conclusion after congressional candidate John Oceguera’s performance on television this week is either he believes in nothing or is scared of everything

Or both.

Either way, if there are any Democrats who can defend his spectacularly evasive and all-too-revealing appearances on “Face to Face” and “The Agenda,” they should be ashamed of themselves. Oceguera’s refusal to take positions on seminal Democratic initiatives such as health care reform and the stimulus are emblematic of a party whose candidates hope to win by hiding their core beliefs or have decided to discard them — at least temporarily.

Jay Jones is a Las Vegas-based freelance writer who has covered political campaigns for various media outlets in the U.S. and for the BBC in the U.K.