Angle is the aggressor in her first and only debate with Reid

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Republican Sharron Angle was on the attack against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in their only campaign debate Thursday night, calling him a career politician who has voted to raise taxes more than 300 times.

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By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 15, 2010

LAS VEGAS - Republican Sharron Angle challenged Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid's legislative record, his personal wealth and his manhood in a feisty debate Thursday, the one and only showdown between two starkly different candidates in one of the most important races of 2010.

A star of the tea party movement, Angle was tough and salty throughout the hour-long session, taunting the Democratic leader for living in a Washington luxury hotel and questioning how he could afford a high-end lifestyle on a government salary. She even slipped a dig into her answer to a Social Security question.

"Man up, Harry Reid," Angle said to Reid. "You need to understand we have a problem with Social Security."

With so many Senate races now up for grabs, the stakes in Nevada couldn't be higher. Reid is the most powerful member of the Senate and one of President Obama's most important allies. A master dealmaker, Reid steered Obama's ambitious legislative agenda through the Senate's choppy waters and is now under fire in his home state for the unpopular health-care bill and the worst economic slump in modern Nevada history.

Reid is an erratic public speaker, but by his standards, he delivered a solid performance. He attacked Angle's opposition to insurance mandates, her proposals to eliminate the Education Department and other federal agencies, and her support for private Social Security accounts. "What she's talking about is extreme," he said more than once.

Reid responded to just one personal attack, when Angle questioned him, "How did you become so wealthy?"

"That's really kind of a low blow," Reid responded, explaining that before he was elected to Congress he was a "very successful" Las Vegas defense attorney.

The Reid-Angle contest is as tight as any in the country, with polls showing almost no daylight between the two candidates.

The stakes were high for Angle: She is less known around the state, holds few public events and avoids speaking to the local press. The debate gave the former state assemblywoman a rare chance to directly address voters who have been subjected to a barrage of negative television and radio ads, and who may know the caricature better than the candidate.

One of the most conservative Republicans on the November ballot this year, Angle was unyielding when challenged by Reid to explain some of her more controversial positions. She reiterated her opposition to the government requiring health insurance companies to cover procedures such as mammograms, remarking, "America is a country of choices."

She passed up numerous chances to connect with more moderate independent voters, at one point identifying conservative Clarence Thomas as the Supreme Court justice she most admires, because he knows his "constitutional boundaries."

For Reid, the challenge was to project a more likable image and to remind Nevadans of his considerable clout, which has allowed him to funnel mortgage relief, renewable energy investments and infrastructure dollars to the economically battered Silver State.

Again and again, Reid reminded the audience of the perks he has delivered over his years in Congress. "We have to do more, of course," he said. "We're in this hole, and we're trying to dig out of it. There's a long ways to go, and no one's satisfied where we are."


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