For Democrats, wishful thinking in Angle-Reid debate

Democrats anticipating a meltdown by Republican firebrand Sharron Angle in Thursday’s debate against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will likely be disappointed.

Not saying it can’t happen, of course. Anything is possible. But the Angle I’ve been watching this past year rarely has a problem under pressure when going up against opposing candidates and perceived enemies in the mainstream media.

She weathered Jon Ralston’s “Face to Face” gantlet without much more than mussed hair. She had no trouble dealing with Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian in the Republican primary.

It’s important to remember that Angle’s encyclopedia of rhetorical gaffes has been compiled when she was speaking before friendly crowds and granting warm, fuzzy interviews to conservative talk show hosts. It’s in front of her allies that she loosens her hair bun and says all those jaw-dropping things that have given Reid’s rapid response team enough material for a season of “Tonight Show” episodes.

Of course, we can all speculate that the pressure of this debate will be great – perhaps too great for Angle.

 I say malarkey. Angle is a seasoned public speaker who is very capable of firing up a partisan crowd. (And I don’t recall all the debate ribbons Reid has won over the years. Perhaps someone will enlighten me.)

She’ll be studious. And she can take the stage with the knowledge that all but a small fraction of the voting public has already made up its minds in this race.

 Bottom line is, the political science pundits who say Angle must outperform the incumbent are wrong. Unless she goes catatonic or falls off the stage — it's always possible, just unlikely — Angle will be perceived as “holding her own” or better.

 It’s Reid who has to slap himself and show some energy — and a little tenacity — or he’ll run the risk of not looking all that much more senatorial than his opponent. He needs to sound like a leader with a vision, but how to do that?

In the year of the Tea Party, in the wake of Angle’s staggering $14 million fund-raising quarter, someone should remind the senior senator he’s now the underdog.