Sixty minutes, two candidates and not a single moment of agreement.
Instead, Republican Sharron Angle taunted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to “man up” Thursday night in their only debate of a close, caustic and costly race.
Speaking more softly, Reid called her extreme, an ally of the special interests and advocate for jettisoning government agencies that millions of Nevadans rely on.
“We can’t trust you with taxes,” the tea party-backed Angle said near the end of their 60 shared minutes on a debate stage, returning to an allegation made nearly an hour earlier that he had voted to raise taxes 300 times.
Reid said in fact he and fellow Democrats had voted to cut taxes for 95 percent of all Nevadans and Americans in the past two years, and to reduce the burden on small businesses eight times.
Later, it was his turn to attack, blending the national and the local as he did.
Angle “wants to privatize the Veterans Administration. Think about that,” he said, adding that a new state-of-the-art VA hospital would soon open in the state, the first in decades. “I worked hard on it,” he said, referring to a facility that will be available to serve Nevada’s estimated 246,000 military veterans.
He also criticized Angle for saying health insurance companies should not be under any federal coverage mandates.
“Insurance companies don’t do things out of the goodness of their heart; they do it because of the profit motive,” he said. “We need them to be forced into” covering tests for mammograms, colonoscopies and treatment for autism and other conditions.
The remark about autism was a reference to Angle once having said that autism is a catchall designation for numerous conditions, a statement that has drawn sharp criticism from adults with autistic children as well as others.
The debate unfolded at a particularly critical moment in their race, with early voting set to begin over the weekend and polls showing an extremely tight contest. Both candidates and their allies are spending heavily on television advertisements in the final two-and-a-half weeks of the race.
With their debate, Reid and Angle shared both a local stage and a national spotlight in a race that pits the embodiment of the Democratic establishment against a challenger who was little known outside Nevada before winning the GOP nomination in an upset.
More than personal political success is at stake for the 70-year-old Senate majority leader and the 61-year-old former state lawmaker. Republicans need to gain 10 seats this fall to wrest control of the Senate from the Democrats, and Reid’s seat is one of a dozen they are targeting.
For Angle, the encounter was a chance to counter Reid’s monthslong attack on her as an extremist who is bent on destroying Social Security and other government programs.
For Reid, seeking a fifth Senate term, it marked an opportunity to persuade skeptical constituents that he deserves re-election at a time when unemployment in Nevada, at 14.4 percent, is the highest in the country. “We have a long way to go but we have made progress” on economic issues, he said.
The two rivals had a quiet, private word in the moments before the debate began, and shook hands and exchanged pleasantries once it had ended. In between, she frequently looked at Reid when it was his turn to speak, but he scarcely glanced at her when it was hers.
The debate took place before an audience of invited guests and a televised audience at a local PBS station.
Angle played the aggressor from the outset, promising in the opening moments that the evening would make clear a contrast between her and her rival. She recited the state’s dreary economic statistics — first in the country in unemployment, home foreclosure and bankruptcies.
In her opening statement, she said Reid was a career politician who lived in a fashionable condominium in Washington, D.C., part of a campaign-long attempt to cast him as out of touch with the state he has represented in Congress for decades.
Nearly 60 minutes later, she asked pointedly how Reid had started his political career with little money but now was among the Senate’s richest men. “How did you become so wealthy on a government payroll?” she asked.
Reid paused long enough to say he was disappointed at the implication behind the question, then said she had her facts wrong. He said he had practiced law before entering politics, and had invested wisely in the years since.
Repeatedly across the 60 minutes, he said she held extreme views, saying she wanted to privatize Social Security, favored closing the Education Department and wanted to turn the state’s Yucca Mountain site into a national nuclear waste reprocessing facility.
Social Security was a flashpoint. Angle, under fire for having called for privatizing the program, said, “Man up, Harry Reid” and acknowledge the financial difficulties the program faces.
The economy was a recurrent theme.
Reid took aim at Angle’s statement that it’s not the job of a senator to create jobs. “What she’s talking about is extreme,” he said.
“Harry Reid, it’s not your job to create jobs,” she replied sharply. “It’s your job to create policy” that leads to the creation of jobs.
Associated Press writer Cristina Silva contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press