Challenger Sharron Angle took aim Monday at one of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid's strongest arguments for re-election, contending that the Senate majority leader's influence has hurt, not helped, the state.
"In spite of what people are saying about this most powerful man, Harry Reid, he has not used his power for our benefit," Angle said in a speech to the Nevada Republican Men's Club.
Angle cited the new health care law, which polls show isn't popular in Nevada with more than half of voters, and hundreds of billions in federal spending that has led to a record $13 trillion national deficit without stopping Nevada's economic slide.
Angle's comments to the friendly crowd of more than 200 Republicans came three months before Election Day as the Tea Party favorite and Reid remain locked in a dead heat for the Democratic incumbent's Senate seat, according to recent polls. The speech, along with her willingness to answer reporters' questions afterward, signaled a new approach of openness by her campaign, which has been accused of ducking the media since her June 8 primary win.
Angle said that as a junior senator she could wield power by joining Republicans to block tax hikes, excess regulation and spending bills, and Supreme Court nominees who don't meet a strict constitutional test, including Elena Kagan.
"There are certain things that can be done just by your junior senator," Angle said, explaining that even if Republicans remain in the minority after 2010, she could filibuster, which allows lone lawmakers to delay legislation through lengthy debate. "I guarantee that I can talk most anything to death."
In TV ads and on the campaign trail, Angle blames Reid for Nevada's record high unemployment, home foreclosure and bankruptcy rates that have spiked in the 18 months since President Barack Obama took office and with Democrats in charge of the House and Senate.
Reid argues, however, that he and the Democrats have staved off a worse recession by passing a $787 billion stimulus bill to save thousands of jobs in Nevada. He also defends the health care law as necessary to stop runaway costs and give the rich, poor and middle class access to insurance.
Reid campaign spokesman Jon Summers answered Angle's criticism by noting the senator is responsible for an energy transmission line between White Pine and Clark counties that "will create thousands of jobs" as well as wind turbine manufacturing facilities that will open in Las Vegas, putting 1,000 people to work. Summers also pointed to $100 million Nevada recently got in federal funds to help homeowners who were in danger of losing their houses to foreclosure.
"Senator Reid delivers more for Nevada than the rest of the delegation combined," Summers said in a statement. "Any Republican who says Nevada isn't better off because of Senator Reid is either being dishonest or isn't paying attention. Yes, things are tough right now, but they would have been even worse if Nevada didn't have the leader of the Senate fighting for them."
Angle has turned Reid's campaign claim that he's done more for Nevada on its head, saying he has pushed policies that have given the state more unemployed, bankrupt and homeless people.
"It's time to tell Harry Reid to stop doing more. We can't afford it," Angle said.
Angle, accused of avoiding the media, made light of the criticism when she lost her voice and breath for a few moments early in her 20-minute speech.
"I've been running from the press so much," Angle joked after drinking some water, drawing a round of applause and laughter from the luncheon gathering inside Cili Restaurant at the Bali Hai Golf Course south of Mandalay Bay.
Angle said she had done more than 100 interviews in more than 50 days, although she didn't mention that most of them have been with conservative radio and TV programs.
"I've been doing so many interviews. Because of that, I sometimes lose my voice," she said. "One day I did 15 interviews. It does kind of get to your vocal cords."
Instead of avoiding the media after her speech, Angle took questions from several reporters, including from a Japanese newspaper and The New Republic covering the national race.
Asked whether her speech was addressing voters afraid of losing Reid's clout, Angle said that making the case for a new senator is more about telling Nevadans what she'll do if she wins Nov. 2.
"When you talk about what's wrong, people want to know how you're going to make it right," she said, arguing her election would remove the man most responsible for passing Obama's agenda. "The greatest value, of course, for us is that we'll be rid of the policies of Obama and retire Harry Reid."
Angle also took questions from Republicans, including from at least two people who worried that she wasn't responding sharply and quickly enough to Reid's ubiquitous attacks in TV ads.
She said her new media team and the millions she's pouring into her campaign have given her the ability to put up three TV ads in the past few weeks and will let her keep on the air through the fall.
"You'll see them get harder and harder," Angle said of her ads, promising a "vigorous battle."
Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919.