Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
Nevada Sen. Harry Reid (right) talks to his opponent, Republican Sharron Angle, as moderator Mitch Fox from PBS looks on after their political debate Thursday at the Vegas PBS studios.
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
In Las Vegas on Thursday night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid faced his challenger, Republican Sharron Angle, in the only debate of the campaign.
Reid is in the fight of his career as he seeks a fifth term. Angle, a former state legislator, has the momentum of a come-from-behind primary victory and the support of the Tea Party. Polls show the race is extremely tight.
Neither Reid nor Angle has had many public events during this campaign. They've mainly savaged each other in TV commercials.
During the debate, each tried to make those unflattering images stick.
Angle's rap on Reid is that he's a creature of big-government Washington, out of touch with average Nevadans.
"Senator Reid has been a politician for over 30 years," Angle began. "I live in a middle-class neighborhood in Reno, Nevada. Senator Reid lives in the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C."
That might particularly rankle Nevadans who now suffer with the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates in the country.
But Reid, the son of a miner, tried to show he knew what it was like to suffer through tough times — like when he was growing up in the tiny town of Searchlight. Lean times sound different in Nevada than they do in other parts of the country, though.
"Times were tough. The mines weren't doing well at all. My mom took in wash from the brothels in Searchlight so I have some idea of what it's like to struggle," Reid said.
If you'd decided to play a drinking game and take a swig every time Reid called his opponent extreme, you'd have quite the hangover this morning.
Angle was famous as a state legislator for voting "no" so often that votes in the assembly were described as "41 to Angle." During the primary, she said Social Security and Medicare should be phased out and privatized. Now she only says she wants to personalize Social Security.
But Reid wouldn't let her off the hook: "Now she talks about, and has for years talked about, getting rid of Social Security. For years. Look what would have happened had we put this money in the stock market as was suggested by President Bush. This is an extreme idea, and it will destroy Social Security."
For every time Reid called Angle extreme, she brought up the health care overhaul that Reid shepherded through the Senate. Angle calls it Obamacare, and she said it would destroy Medicare in particular and the health care system in general.
"America is a country of choices — not forcing people to buy things that they don't need," Angle said.
Reid countered that the health care overhaul would not only improve health care, but improve the economy, too.
"We had to do health insurance reform to remain competitive in the world economy. And it creates jobs — thousands and thousands of jobs," Reid added.
Both candidates had to answer for controversial remarks they've made in the past.
Angle was asked whether she really thinks jobless Americans have been "spoiled" by unemployment benefits.
"No, I don't think that our unemployed are spoiled," she said, "and that was totally mischaracterized by my opponent," which has become Angle's standard response when questioned about past statements.
But Reid, too, is known for making strange remarks.
Angle tried to score by reminding the debate audience that Reid had once said the Iraq war had been lost.
"That emboldened our enemies, demoralized our troops and endangered them, and you need to apologize to them, Senator," Angle chided.
Reid countered with the many things he's done for veterans and his endorsement from the Veterans of Foreign Wars. And he tried to turn Angle's disdain for government regulations against her.
"My opponent favors big banks. She's against Wall Street reform. Oil companies — she said BP had too much regulation, that's what went wrong there. I have a different philosophy. I am for the middle class," he said.
There was no clear winner on stage. The money race, however, has been a different matter.
Reid was clearly way ahead in the early months, but Angle shocked political observers by taking in $14 million in the last reporting period — even more than Reid.
They both had better spend that money fast — early voting begins Saturday.