LAS VEGAS – In a crackling campaign debate, Republican challenger Sharron Angle attacked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as a career politician Thursday night who lives in a fashionable Washington condominium and has voted to raise taxes 300 times. The four-term veteran called his tea party-backed rival extreme and an ally of special interests.
"My opponent favors big banks, she's against Wall Street reform," Reid said, adding that her views are sympathetic to big health insurance companies.
Angle played the aggressor from the opening moments of the hour-long debate, at one point taunting the Democratic leader to "man up, Harry Reid" as she urged him to concede that Social Security faces financial difficulty.
Across a stage at a local PBS station, there was little or nothing the two agreed on — not taxes, not health care, immigration, energy policy or federal spending.
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.
With their debate, Reid and his challenger shared a local stage and a national spotlight, the only joint appearance of a campaign pitting the embodiment of the Democratic establishment against a challenger who was little known outside Nevada before winning the nomination in an upset.
For Angle, a 61-year-old former state lawmaker, the encounter was a chance to counter Reid's months-long attack on her as an extremist who is bent on destroying Social Security and other government programs.
For Reid, 70 and 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.
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.
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.
Under the debate ground rules, moderator Mitch Fox posed questions to the candidates by turn, and at one point, asked Angle the same question twice after she sidestepped when asked if health insurance companies should be bound by any coverage mandates.
"The solutions to the health care insurance cost problems are simple and they reside within the free market," she said.
Reid pounced on her reply.
"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 mammograms, colonoscopies and other tests, as well as autism and other conditions.
Angle's reference to Reid's Washington condominium appeared part of a campaign-long effort to make him look like he has lost touch with the state that he has represented in Congress for decades.
She returned to the same theme nearly an hour later, much more pointedly, when she said he had gone into public service with little money and now was among the wealthiest men in the Senate.
"How did you become so wealthy on a government payroll?" she asked accusingly.
As he had at other points, Reid said Angle had her facts wrong. He said he had practiced law before entering politics, had been successful at it and has managed his investments well in the years since.
Both candidates unveiled new television attack ads in the hours leading up to the debate.
Previewing her attack in the debate's opening moments, Angle's commercial Reid, saying he has voted to raise taxes more than 300 times.
Reid's ad called Angle a "wild" legislator who would force pregnant rape victims to give birth and dismantle Social Security.
Former President Bill Clinton campaigned with Reid earlier in the week and urged voters not to take their anger over the economy out on the four-term senator.
But Angle jolted Democrats in the state and in Washington when her campaign announced it had raised $14 million in the three months ending Sept. 30, a staggering sum that reflects her rise to prominence as the Republican challenger to the Senate's top Democrat.
Democrats responded by noting that Angle had not disclosed how much of the money she had remaining in her campaign treasury, suggesting she had already spent most of what she reported raising. But at the same time, Reid rushed out a fundraising appeal that said Angle's surge in donations meant she might be able to swamp him on television in the campaign's final days.
The antagonism between the two sides has also spilled over into the streets.
Police said they had issued summonses to two men after an Angle supporter dressed in a sheep costume taunted one of Reid's backers during Clinton's appearance.
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