Now that the only U.S. Senate debate is history, the only question is did the Democratic incumbent Harry Reid or his GOP challenger Sharron Angle persuade more voters to swing their way.
The answer: probably neither did, which re sets the stage for a close race to Nov. 2 as the Tea Party favorite's energetic base goes up against the Senate majority leader's turn out machine.
The reviews in, most observers say Angle won by not stumbling and by delivering more zingers than the low-energy Reid, who presented a picture of a serious senator rustling through his notes.
"Angle just met expectations and Reid didn't change anyone's mind," said Jacob Thompson, director of debates at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "So Angle didn't increase her stock very much in this debate, although she may have convinced a couple people that she's not too extreme."
Thompson sees a tougher road to victory for Reid following the face off, however, because the senator's words likely didn't fire up his Democratic base as Angle's did her GOP backers. And neither did much to win the small slice of undecided voters who could determine the outcome, he said.
"His was not a performance that inspires someone to leave home and pull a lever for him," said Thompson, who questioned the soft, defensive tactics Reid took that made him look weak beside the aggressor Angle. "Reid's got to get the bodies to the polls to win and this didn't help him."
Millions of people from Nevada and across the country and the world -- Dayton to Dallas to Dubai -- watched the hour-long debate live on TV from the Vegas PBS studios. Millions more listened to it on radio, and heard almost nonstop post-debate analysis Friday that mostly gave Angle the edge.
Perception is everything in politics, but debates usually only change the ballot box dynamics in a tight contest if one of the candidates makes a major mistake or says something to excite or incite the electorate, which didn't happen. The stakes high, Reid played it safe while Angle went for broke.
"There wasn't a sort of gotcha moment for either of them," said Dave Damore, political science professor at UNLV. "They both did what they wanted to do. But Reid was more on the defensive. I think he missed a couple of opportunities to go on the offensive. She was pretty aggressive from the get-go."
Angle came out swinging from her opening statement, painting Reid as a multimillionaire who lives in the Ritz-Carlton in Washington and raised taxes 300 times on people who are struggling to pay bills.
In contrast, Angle said she voted against taxes more than 100 times as an assemblywoman, yet she also said she wasn't a career politician, but a grandmother who lived a middle-class life in Reno.
Reid, for his part, sketched out his humble beginnings as the Searchlight son of a hard-rock miner who knows what it's like to see parents sweat to make a living and raise children in hard times. He also cast himself as a middle class tax-cutter whose No. 1 job is to create jobs for Nevadans.
Thompson, the debate expert, said Reid should have looked into the camera and told viewers that if Angle were senator many of them would not have jobs. He could have done that after talking about clean energy projects he pushed and by highlighting CityCenter, the Strip's 10,000-job resort he helped save from financial collapse but didn't mention in the debate.
"He should have gone on the attack and let loose the dogs of war," Thompson said. "The only way Reid wins in November is to motivate his Democratic base and he just didn't."
Instead, the quiet-spoken Reid seemed to try to soften his image as the sharp-elbowed and sharp-tongued Senate deal maker, Thompson said. He pulled his punches and stuck mostly to his rehearsed talking points, in contrast to the former boxer's reputation as a political brawler.
Angle, on the other hand, looked for opportunities to score a quick jab, including when she told him: "Man up, Harry Reid."
Fred Lokken, political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College, said Reid probably won the debate on substance while Angle spouted mostly "ideology and stock conservative doctrine" of lower taxes, smaller government and free market policies. But her folksy language and her aggressive energy gave her the edge in the end because she came across as "stronger, more confident and less flaky" than she's been portrayed by the Reid campaign in negative ads.
"Voter turnout is going to be the deciding factor in this election," Lokken said. "The base that existed for both was more or less galvanized before this event. The debate may have no impact."
In a tactical move, Lokken said Reid seemed to reach out to moderate Republicans.
"Those Republicans are having the biggest trouble supporting Angle and Harry Reid is a flaming moderate," Lokken said. "I think we saw a real effort by Reid to pander to moderate Republicans."
Reid, for example, mentioned former GOP President Ronald Reagan in a positive light as well as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and former President George W. Bush, whom he called a "friend." Reid has called Bush a "loser" before and fought him over Iraq war policy. Reid also talked about his admiration for Gen. David Petraeus, although he has criticized him in the past.
In the oddest GOP icon mention, Reid cited Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, leader of the conservative wing of the high court, when the debate moderator asked him to name a current or former justice he admired and one who should have never been approved by the Senate.
"I don't agree with Scalia's opinions lots of times, but he is a masterful, masterful mind," Reid said. "He does good things. So Scalia, he has done a job -- I don't agree with his opinions, but he's really an example to anyone who appreciates the law."
Angle answered both sides of the question, saying she most admired Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the most conservative members of the court.
"He understands his Constitutional boundaries as a judge in the Supreme Court, and that's what we need," Angle said. "We need justices that will sit on the Supreme Court and do their duty constitutionally, not legislate from the bench."
"I would not have confirmed Elena Kagan or Sonia Sotomayor," she added, naming two of the most recently confirmed justices that Reid backed, which cost him a possible endorsement from the National Rifle Association. "And the reason is because neither one of them understands the Constitution and have said that they would vote against things like our Second Amendment rights. "
Damore of UNLV said he thinks Reid's hesitancy to be too cutthroat in debate or even to tout his power as Senate majority leader -- an argument his campaign makes for his re-election -- suggests concern within the campaign about an electorate eager to throw incumbents out of office.
"Missing from the debate was Reid saying, 'How is Nevada going to be better served by removing the Senate majority leader,'" Damore said. "I think that goes to their defensiveness."
Neither Angle nor Reid came across as smooth talkers, but the senator at times seemed to act as if he were speaking from the safety of the Senate chamber, his home since 1987. At the end, Reid fumbled to find his written closing statement, an empty chamber C-Span moment.
"Okay, gotta find my little notes here," he said, shuffling paper on his glass-topped podium. "Okay, a lot of paper here," he added, buying a few seconds of time to search. "I have a few notes I made."
It had been 12 years since Reid debated an election opponent, back in 1998 when he nearly lost to John Ensign, who two years later won the second U.S. Senate seat.
"I guess he's used to debating where no one listens to him, in the Senate," Damore said.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919.