Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican opponent Sharron Angle met tonight for a heated debate — their one and only direct meeting of the entire Nevada Senate race. Ultimately, neither candidate seemed to suffer from any knockout blows, but they sure provided an interesting spectacle.
Each of the candidates had some consistent themes. Reid stressed that he was working hard for Nevada, and on multiple occasions called Angle “extreme.” Meanwhile, Angle cast Reid as out of touch, and complained about big government spending. Jon Ralston is of the view that “Angle has done what she needed to do, looked credible,” and been on message. Let’s see how it plays out in the weeks to come. The TPM Poll Average gives Angle a narrow lead of 47.9%-47.4%, headed into this debate.
Reid clearly recognized the issue of the economy in this election, which has served to significantly damage his campaign. Right from his opening statement, Reid played up his humble roots in the small town of Searchlight, Nevada, how his father worked in the mines, and how his mother did laundry for nearby brothels. (Note: Prostitution is a legal and regulated sector of commerce in Nevada.) And he stressed that he has been working hard in the Senate to help the economy recover.
“We were the top of the economic food chain in Nevada for 20 years. When Wall Street collapsed, we fell really hard,” said Reid. “There’s a big hole there. We found it there about 20 months ago. We could hardly see out of that hole. But we’ve struggled. I believe my number one job is to create jobs as a United States Senator. That’s why I’ve worked very very hard to do just that.”
Meanwhile, Angle played straight to the Tea Party right. “I have a legislative record of voting over 100 times against tax and fee increases, poor public policy and unconstitutional laws. Sen. Reid has voted over 300 times to raise our taxes. He’s voted for poor public policy like stimulus and bailout, and he’s voted for unconstitutional bills like Obamacare.”
She also added: “Our Founding Fathers knew that the best government was a limited government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Tonight, you will see the difference between Harry Reid and big government, and Sharron Angle and limited constitutional government.”
On the issue of illegal immigration and border security, Reid played up the need for comprehensive reform. “I’m frustrated like everyone else is frustrated, but I believe we have to look at the issue and do comprehensive immigration reform. We cannot ignore it,” said Reid, explaining that illegal immigrants would have to pay taxes, penalties and fines under such a solution. “And that way we will be able to do something about the issue and not demagogue it. We have to work together here.”
On the other side, Angle praised the crackdown on illegal immigration by the neighboring state of Arizona. “I think every state should have a sheriff like [Maricopa County Sheriff] Joe Arpaio. And I think we should be supporting Arizona, not suing Arizona like Senator Reid and President Obama have.”
Angle then brought up the conservative meme that foreign governments have become involved in the litigation against Arizona — in fact, foreign governments have simply submitted written briefs to the courts in the case, which anyone can do. “Senator Reid, you’ve allowed 11 foreign countries to dictate our immigration law. That’s just nuts.”
Reid defended the new health care reform law. “For a long time in this country, insurance companies have dominated the health care delivery system. You pay your premiums, you get sick or hurt, they walk away from you. We passed health insurance reform because we had no choice.”
He also discussed how the costs of health care were taking up ever greater portions of the economy: “We had to do health insurance reform to maintain competitiveness in the world economy. And it creates jobs, thousands and thousands of jobs.”
Also during the discussion of health care, moderator Mitch Fox asked Angle about her opposition to mandating that insurance companies cover various procedures such as mammograms, colonoscopies and autism treatments — a point that Reid had already been raising. Fox asked Angle, should insurance companies be required to cover anything? Angle dug in, seeming to say no, but was also careful to not sound insensitive.
“America is a country of choices, not forcing people to buy things that they don’t need,” said Angle. “What we want is a basic policy where we can add the coverages that we need. I taught autistic children. I know that this is a real biomedical disorder, and it needs to have its own insurance code so that families can get the right treatment and also be covered. But the insurance mandate that we passed in this state only cares for 25% of the one out of every 110 children that have autism. We have to stop making Band-Aid applications and start making real solutions when we talk about health care. And forcing someone to buy something that they don’t need is not a way to solve the problem.”
Fox asked the question against: Is there anything that insurance companies should be forced to cover?
“I think that what we have here is a choice between the free market and Americanism,” Angle boldly declared. “America is about choices, and we need to allow people to have those choices. The free market will weed out those companies that don’t offer as many choices and don’t have a cost effective system. Let people decide where they want to buy their insurance. You don’t have to force them to buy anything, and you don’t have to force anyone to offer a product that no one wants.”
On Social Security, Reid attacked Angle for having had a long-running position of wanting to phase out the program, and said that Angle’s warning of the system going broke was exaggerated, that only “minor tinkering” was needed to maintain it in 35 years’ time. “Don’t frighten people about Social Security,” Reid said. “The deal that was made by President Reagan and Tip O’Neil is holding strong. The money is there and taking care of our folks and will for the next 35 years.”
Angle responded strongly — and seemed to be challenging Reid’s masculinity. “Man up, Harry Reid. You need to understand that we have a problem with Social Security. That problem was created because of government taking money out of the Social Security trust fund.”
Reid later responded: “Mitch, these ideas of my opponent are really extreme. I said the CBO [Congressional Budget Office], the actuarial, said there’s plenty of money in that trust fund account. During the Clinton years we did not use trust fund money to offset the deficit…her facts are absolutely wrong.”
During a discussion of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Fox asked Reid about his famous statement from 2007 that “this war is lost,” and the surge was a failure. “Mitch, I first met General Petraeus in Iraq. The statement that I made was following General Petraeus saying that the war could not be won militarily. He said, and I said, that the war would only be won militarily, economically and diplomatically.” He also added, “General Petraeus has done a great job, he is my friend and I’m glad he’s in Afghanistan,” and pointed out that he has been endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars for his help to veterans.
Angle said that she didn’t have access to security briefings or the opportunity to vote for the wars — which Reid did — but she would support the troops. “But when you said this war was lost and you said Genera Petraeus was dishonest, that emboldened our enemies, demoralized our troops and endangered them. And you need to apologized to them, Senator.”
Reid stressed again: “I’ve been endorsed by the largest veterans organization in the country, the Veterans of Foreign Wars. My opponent, she wants to privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
Angle shot back by saying she does not want to privatize the V.A., only saying that it could do better. (Note: this is not true.) She said that her father, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, is paying $800 out of pocket per month for his prescription drugs.
Reid replied, “I would suggest her dad come to one of my offices with some casework on that,” and that he should not be paying the money. So even though he and Angle are running a tough race against each other, Reid is playing up his service to the state by publicly offering constituent services to his opponent’s father.
Towards the end, during a discussion of the renewal of the expiring Bush tax cuts, Angle lodged a personal attack against Reid — implying corruption on his part. “Well, the tax cuts need to be made permanent. If they’re not, we will experience the largest tax increase in the history of America. And voting for over 300 tax increases, Senator, we can’t trust you with our taxes. Not only that, you came from Searchlight to the Senate with very little. Now you’re one of the richest men in the U.S. Senate. On behalf of Nevada taxpayers, I’d like to know, we’d like to know, how did you become so wealthy on a government payroll?”
(Note: this is not true. According to Open Secrets, Reid was ranked as only the 32nd richest Senator in 2008, the year for which the most recent ranking is available.)
Reid was given a chance to respond — and he pointed out that he didn’t go straight from Searchlight to Washington as she suggested. “Mitch, that’s really kind of a low blow,” said Reid. “I think most everyone knows, I was a very successful lawyer, I did a very good job of investing. I have been on a fixed income since I went to Washington. I’ve lived off of what I made in the private sector. I’ve put my five kids through a hundred semesters of school, and I’ve paid for every penny of it. So her suggestion that I made money being a Senator is simply false, and I’m really disappointed that she would suggest that.”
So who was the true winner of this debate? Well, that guy Mitch Fox did a good job as the moderator.
(Ed. note: All quotes used here are rush transcriptions, and may be subject to future editing.)