Words were exchanged but no punches thrown as supporters of Harry Reid and Sharron Angle shared a sidewalk for about an hour before Wednesday's debate.
Event organizers had sectioned off the parking lot at the Vegas PBS studio, dividing everything, including the portable toilets. But it wasn't necessary as the groups took their protest to the street.
Studio officials were bracing for a crowd of 500 to 1,000. The final tally was fewer than 200, roughly two-thirds of them there to support Reid.
The partitioned parking lot stood mostly empty as Angle supporters lined the curb along Flamingo Road and Reid backers took to the high ground on the small hill above them.
The Democrats arrived as an organized force made up mostly of party volunteers and union members, from nurses to sheet metal workers. Local party leaders used a microphone and sound system to bolster chants such as "Vote for Harry, not for scary."
Some carried professionally printed "Wrong Angle" signs. Others chose from a stack of hand-painted posters, some of which never got used.
Reid supporter Sandy Hanson brought her own signs -- seven in all with what she called bumper sticker-ready slogans she wrote herself. Example: "Sharron Angle, no integri-tea."
The 15-year Las Vegas resident and lifelong Democrat said she wanted to see Reid get tough during the debate. "I hope he pushes Angle back and puts her in her place," she said.
The Angle group was smaller and more spontaneous.
Las Vegas resident Rita Hickey was living in West Berlin when the Wall divided the city. The 63-year-old said she grew up surrounded by socialism and watched as people on the other side lost their lives trying to tunnel and climb their way out.
Clad in an Angle T-shirt, holding a sign and wearing an anti-Reid placard around her neck, Hickey said she now sees signs of socialism in America that remind her of what she witnessed before the Wall came down.
"It was an oppressed regime, and that's what I'm seeing here now," Hickey said. "I see what's going on here with socialized medicine and the government being involved in every aspect of people's lives. It frightens me."
Angle-look-alike Teresa Crawford came dressed for the part in a purple business suit, but she was not there to support the GOP challenger.
"She just seems destructive," Crawford said of her doppelganger. "I know the economy is bad ... but the way to get out of the hole is not to go backward."
The registered nurse joked that she may look like Angle but she doesn't act like her. "I will interview with any media outlet anytime." she said. "No notes and no handlers."
The security detail outside the studio included dozens of local and federal law enforcement officers. Security checkpoints were set up in the studio's parking lot.
Eight unarmed Army National Guardsmen were in the building to help check in guests.
Before the debate, moderator and Vegas PBS newsman Mitch Fox wandered around the studio as more than 100 expected members of the media were arriving. They included press from the U.S. and at least five other countries, including Britain, France, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands.
"I'm kind of wandering around looking at the circus," Fox said. "I've got my camera. This is history."
Back outside, a van circled the block towing a giant fake bison on a trailer. The 10-foot-tall animal was draped with a sign that read, "Don't be buffaloed by Harry, vote for Sharron Angle."
The first time it rolled past the crowd, the Angle camp cheered while some Reid supporters responded with a one-word chant involving bull excrement.
Corinne Wittig is too young to cast a ballot today, but the 17-year-old said she's already registered to vote when she turns 18 in two weeks.
Wittig wore an Angle T-shirt and screamed at traffic in front of the Vegas PBS studio. She said she doesn't like Reid because she associates him with President Barack Obama.
"He's with Obama on everything," Wittig said. "I know you're not supposed to focus on the party so much, but they kind of take away our rights as people. We worked as a country to get those rights, and they shouldn't take them away."
Jeff Stern brought his dog, Chewie, to the rally outside what he called "the biggest senatorial debate in my lifetime."
Stern, 58 and wearing an Obama T-shirt, said he lives part-time in Summerlin and in Park City, Utah, but he registered to vote in Nevada because he wanted to support Reid.
Asked what he hoped to hear during the debate, Stern said, "I just hope he delivers a knockdown punch, but in a really positive way. We need to get tougher with the Republicans, not give in."
Though he sported an Angle shirt, Bryce Rakich, 35, described himself as more of an "Anybody but Reid" type.
"It is absolutely my mentality, I will confess very fully," he said in between shouting at passing motorists to vote for Angle. "(Reid's) voting record is clear, and it's harmful. He slides stuff into 1,000-page bills and legislates behind people's backs.
"Anybody who voted for bailouts or supported Obamacare must go in every state."
Some drivers answered Rakich by honking their horns and waving in support. Others gave him the thumbs down or another popular single-digit gesture.
About 35 minutes before the debate began, the Reid crowd marched back into the studio parking lot to press up against the barriers and chant for the news cameras.
Most of the Angle supporters simply left.
The Reid rally broke up about 15 minutes later as many of the Democrats left to go watch the debate at the Mediterranean restaurant down the street.
Most of the sheet metal workers stayed behind to fire up their custom, union-built grill and put some burgers on for the supporters of Democratic Rep. Dina Titus who were beginning to arrive for the second debate of the night.
Contact Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350. Contact Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.