Las Vegas: President Barack Obama's top ally in Congress called his Tea Party-backed rival "extreme" Thursday, while she questioned his integrity in their sole face-to-face debate before crunch polls.
With the race neck-and-neck, Democratic Senator Harry Reid and Republican Sharron Angle dueled, often unpleasantly -- with Angle wondering how Reid had become so wealthy as a senator, prompting Reid to complain of "a low blow."
There were no major showstoppers, just a steady one-hour bounce from topic to topic as the two disagreed on how to improve the floundering US economy, what to do about undocumented immigrants and what to do about health care.
Angle, a former state assemblywoman plagued by criticism that she has changed her position on numerous issues, appeared cheerful and focused, while the four-term Senate Majority Leader seemed demure and tired.
"I'm laughing because this was like watching the 'Twilight Zone'," said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada at Reno. "I think Senator Reid was as animated as Senator Reid gets.
"I think he was a little frustrated that Angle kept shifting her positions and her past positions, and said some things that were blatantly not true. But I'm sure many people thought she came across just fine."
Reid, seeking a fifth six-year term in November 2 mid-term elections, is fighting for his political life amid deep voter anger in the state with the country's top jobless and home foreclosure rates.
Republicans, who aim to defeat Reid and politically cripple Obama, helped Angle raise an eye-popping 14 million dollars this summer. The incumbent's approval ratings continue to hover around an abysmal 40 percent in part because he has a quiet, dour personality that was on display at the debate.
Yet his campaign has made the contest close by blanketing the TV airwaves and Internet sites with a barrage of ads portraying Angle as a radical. On Thursday night he called her "extreme" three times.
She has voted against forcing health insurers to cover mammograms and colonoscopies, and she has stated she'd like to end or privatize Social Security and Medicare, two crucial welfare programs for the ill and elderly. In the debate, Angle framed her views as a matter of allowing the public to decide what sort of insurance they wished to buy.
"The free market will weed out the companies that don't offer as many choices and don't have a cost-effective system," she said. "Let the people decide where they want to buy their insurance."
Both candidates have a record of gaffes, and Reid was asked about a 2007 remark that the Iraq War was "lost." He said he was repeating comments by General David Petreaus, that the war couldn't be won only by military might.
Angle chastised Reid, saying he owed the troops an apology for demoralizing them. But Reid shot back that he's been endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars while she "wants to privatize the Veterans Administration."
Nevada's two-week early voting period before the November 2 election begins Saturday, and Obama is expected to visit Las Vegas next week to rally voters for Reid.
Yet Angle believed the senator's alliance with the president, who won Nevada in 2008 but now is unpopular in recent polls, is a liability.
Among Angle's more conservative positions, she has said that teenagers impregnated in rapes should be forced to have the baby rather than be given the option of abortion.
At the debate, she reiterated her doubts that climate change is caused by human activity, saying: "We've got to stop this extreme environmentalist outlook."
By not making any huge errors, Angle exceeded expectations and may have reassured voters that she's credible, Herzik said. "They'll say, 'Oh ,she wasn't as crazy as Harry Reid portrays her,'" he said.
First Published: Friday, October 15, 2010, 22:28