Dems launch pre-emptive strike on McCain before Angle rally

WASHINGTON -- Nevada Democrats launched a pre-emptive strike against Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican and former presidential candidate who is set to boost GOP Senate hopeful Sharron Angle at a Las Vegas rally Friday night.

Seeking to blunt a McCain return to the state where he gained 412,000 votes as a presidential candidate in 2008 but was swamped by Barack Obama, Democrats dusted off criticism of McCain, and Angle by extension.

They pointed out McCain favors storing nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain and once tried to ban college sports betting, a drive that panicked Nevada sports books until it was derailed.

And in a nod to mixed martial arts that has a major promotional base in Las Vegas as the headquarters of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Democrats said McCain once denigrated no-holds-barred fighting as "human cockfighting."

"So, Sharron Angle will stand next to the man who wanted to decimate Nevada's tourism economy and make our state a nuclear dumping ground," said Phoebe Sweet, communications director for the state Democratic Party.

The Angle campaign was silent on the criticism and instead pointed to positive comments McCain had made of Angle. When asked in June by the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call if Angle was "ready for prime time," McCain answered, "Yes."

McCain will join Angle at a 7 p.m. rally Friday night at The Orleans, along with actor Jon Voight and Michael Reagan, the conservative talk show host and son of the late president.

At 6 p.m. at Orr Middle School, incumbent Sen. Harry Reid will appear with Manny Pacquiao, the seven-division world champion boxer and a member of Congress in his native Philippines.

The rallies kick off the final weekend of campaigning in advance of Election Day on Tuesday.

McCain to date has said little about Angle, although he reportedly has recorded a robo-call on her behalf. According to federal election reports through Oct. 13, his Country First Political Action Committee had donated to 20 GOP Senate candidates but nothing to the Nevada hopeful.

McCain spent up to $25 million to defeat a Tea Party-backed candidate, J.D. Hayworth, in Arizona's Republican primary, but now finds himself sharing a stage with perhaps the highest profile Tea Party candidate in the nation.

Stumping for Angle would be just the latest chapter in McCain's long relationship with Reid, which in earlier times was friendly and now is more contentious.

Most recently, Reid has accused McCain of putting his re-election chances ahead of reaching a compromise on immigration reform. McCain has been critical of Democrats' efforts to repeal the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy against gays serving in the military.

The duo sparred during the 2008 presidential campaign and earlier this year Reid offered McCain advice to move on from the defeat.

"The election is over," Reid said in an interview with Nevada commentator Jon Ralston. "He should leave Barack Obama alone and join with us to do good things for the country."

"I'm very disappointed in how he's reacted (after the election)," Reid said. "I just think he's got to get over this and move onto something else."

The next day, McCain shot back with a reference to Reid's low poll numbers, saying

"I think the people of Nevada are giving him their response."

After vanquishing his GOP primary challenger, McCain has been on a smooth path to re-election in Arizona and has been recruited to campaign in other states. Earlier this week, West Virginia became his 10th state to visit on behalf of Republican contenders.

In some recent appearances McCain hasn't been shy about taking the gloves off on Senate colleagues.

In San Diego on Oct. 16, McCain told a rally of military veterans that Sen. Barbara Boxer "is the most bitterly partisan, most anti-defense senator in the United States Senate today.

"I know that because I've had the unpleasant experience of having to serve with her," he said.

In a call with reporters on Monday, McCain charged Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., of engaging in "corrupt" practices in seeking earmarked spending for the state. Her campaign said McCain was no friend to Washington state in that he has opposed key contracts for Boeing Corp.

Danny Gonzales, political science professor at Great Basin College in Elko, said he could not think of a reason McCain would not be similarly aggressive in discussing Reid. Gonzales also said that McCain's maverick status could give Angle a boost.

"His appeal is that he is a well-known Republican in the region," Gonzales said. Angle "sees value in his image as a maverick, and his stance on immigration has appeal to a majority of Nevadans and his views on that parallel those of Angle."

"Right now it is about mobilizing the base and I would expect for him to make that appeal to her base," Gonzales said.

In the 2008 presidential race, McCain lost Nevada by a 55-43 percent margin. Gonzales said McCain may be more popular now "given the national mood" of dissatisfaction.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760.