Trailing badly in the latest polls, Democrat Rory Reid finally decided to take a few swings at his Republican Brian Sandoval. Reid did so in their Sunday evening debate at Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy sponsored by the Review-Journal and KLAS TV.
Playing opposite the Emmy Awards show, the debate wasn't likely to reach the audience level Reid would have preferred, but it was important for the underdog for a couple reasons.
First, he was able to better define himself as a serious candidate next to the likable and essentially laid back Sandoval. Reid seemed almost angry that Sandoval hadn't been called on some of his smoother, shallower rhetoric. Reid provided all the criticism himself.
Reid's campaign team received a couple juicy moments from Sandoval that, in the right hands, can be turned on the frontrunner. Whether that will make a great deal of difference, however, remains to be seen.
Reid blasted Sandoval's "Hallmark card" education plan, calling it pleasant enough sounding but light on details. More importantly, he also called Sandoval disingenuous for not revealing that his education plan would include $533 million in new cuts at a time the system is already reeling from the budget knife.
"On education, Brian is not strong and he's not consistent," Reid at the outset. It was a refrain he repeated. "He even supports Sharron Angle, who would abolish the Education Department."
Reid characterized Sandoval as "a nice man, but he's a weak leader."
A weak leader with a big lead, that is.
Sandoval also seemed less willing to mix it up with his opponent. Of course, a guy with a big lead can play it safe.
"I left a lifetime appointment because I care deeply about the future of this state," said Sandoval, a former U.S. District Judge. "And I think it's important, given the graduation rates that we've had, and the test scores that we've had, we need to do something different. We can no longer accept the status quo. That's why my plan will do that."
Reid's campaign spokesman Mike Trask responded to the debate within minutes after its conclusion. It looks like Sandoval's guys took the night off.
Reid proved he's capable of mixing it up and coming out on top, but in this race he's badly behind on points. And Sandoval would be unwise to welcome too many more debates, lest he watch that lead shrink considerably.
With nothing to lose, Reid was long overdue to get tough on his opponent. We'll see how much it matters in the coming weeks.