In baseball, a tie goes to the runner. But a draw in Thursday night's Reid-Angle debate could cost Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a return trip to Congress, pundits say.
Based on a variety of press accounts, tea party favorite Sharron Angle was at least as effective as Reid throughout the debate. She also delivered arguably the night's most memorable line, telling the incumbent to "man up" on fixing Social Security.
Most thought all Angle had to do was avoid a knockout at the hands
of the flinty former boxer. But many analysts thought she won the debate outright against her starched-collar opponent.
"Reid Lost the Debate to Angle" was the headline on a column written by ace political journalist Jon Ralston of the Las Vegas Sun.
Ralston, who will never be mistaken for a fan of Angle's, blasted Reid's performance, saying he "looked as if he could barely stay on a linear argument, abruptly switching gears and failing to effectively parry or thrust."
He added the debate's impact may be limited, however: "I believe very few Nevadans are undecided."
Ralston wasn't the only pundit who thought Angle held her own.
Political Wire’s Taegan Goddard said “Reid didn’t knock out Angle but she had him on the ropes. Have to give the edge to Angle ...”
MSNBC's FirstRead blog remarked: "And if both candidates didn't perform well, that only helps Angle. The reason: It's hard to paint your opponent as not ready for primetime if you don't come across looking much better than she did."
The latest polls show the race deadlocked. A Mason-Dixon survey for the Las Vegas Review-Journal this week showed Angle leading 47 percent to 45 percent, well within the 4 point margin of error. But a Suffolk University poll of likely voters had Reid ahead 46 to 43.
Now pundits' eyes will be glued to the next poll that comes out, which could indicate whether Thursday's result has changed voters' minds.
The race promises to be a focus on national attention on Election Day. Angle shocked Democrats earlier this week with the news that her campaign raked in $14 million in the third quarter, sending another signal the Senate's No. 1 Democrat is in serious trouble.
“The perception has been Harry Reid has his machine and Sharron Angle has this ragtag effort to compete,” Ryan Erwin, a Republican political consultant, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Now she has shown that she can compete with Harry Reid’s machine.”
James E. Campbell, the chairman of the State University of New York political science department at Buffalo, tells Newsmax that a tie in this case "would be to the challenger's advantage."
"Probably the most important effect of any debate is to dispel a false public impression," Campbell states. He cites the Reagan-Carter debate in 1980 as a classic example.
Kenneth M. Duberstein, who served as President Reagan's chief of staff in 1988, quipped that expectations were so low for Angle "all she had to demonstrate was that she didn't drool."
Duberstein tells Newsmax: "The fact is she was positive, hopeful, cheery … and Harry looked old, and tired, and senatorial.
"If she had lost the debate, people would have said, 'Well, Harry Reid rose to the occasion.' The fact of the matter is on this one, Sharron Angle rose to the occasion, and she took it to Harry Reid," he says.
Duberstein observed that the Reid campaign has tried to portray the tea party favorite as "a whack-a-doodle.
"And the fact is," Duberstein tells Newsmax, "she's probably the next senator from Nevada."
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