Challenger has most to lose, pundits and insiders say

Sharron Angle has the most to lose in the only debate in the most-watched race in the nation. And Sen. Harry Reid has to try to knock out his GOP challenger, who has survived four months of blistering attack ads and is threatening to end the Democratic incumbent’s political career.

That’s the upshot from pundits and insiders ahead of Thursday’s hourlong face-off, which will be televised live at 6 p.m. on host Vegas PBS, most stations across Nevada and nationally on C-SPAN.

Just two days before early voting begins, the debate will be a high-wire act for both candidates in the dead heat race. The Senate majority leader and the Tea Party favorite are prone to verbal gaffes and awkward answers to tough questions outside of the friendly audience venues they prefer.

"They both have the same strategy — not to say anything stupid," said David Damore, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "I think that’s a little more trouble for Angle. And they need to draw some sort of contrast for the few undecided voters just now starting to tune in."

Angle needs to show voters she can "speak lucidly and clearly about what she believes" and explain why she has moderated some of her hard-core conservative positions since she won the June 8 primary, said Mark Peplowski, political science professor at the College of Southern Nevada.

"What she needs to avoid is coming off as a flip-flopper," Peplowski said.

"This is all the chips for Angle," he added. "She has to deliver a solid performance that speaks volumes that she can understand the job and hang tough in a place where the weak don’t last very long. She also has to score well enough that people will not feel that they are throwing Reid over for a second-stringer who just happens to know the talking points."

The four-term senator must convince voters he has not forgotten them and has delivered for Nevada, including big-money projects and jobs despite a recession that has devastated the economy. In Washington for nearly three decades, he also will seek to highlight his experience and grasp of issues.

"Reid’s got to make the case that you may not like what we’ve done, but it would have been way worse" if Democrats hadn’t passed the $787 billion stimulus and bailed out failing banks and the auto industry, Damore said. Polls show a majority of Nevadans aren’t sold on that message.

The candidates’ demeanor will count, too. The debate will be the only chance for voters to see Reid, 70, and Angle, 61, side by side. How they present themselves could counter what surveys show are highly negative views: half of voters holding unfavorable opinions of them both.

"If Angle puts on a plaster smile, she’s going to come across as a phony," Damore said of the candidate whose advisers have told her not to smile so much. "If Reid is impatient or overly harsh, that could go against him," he added of the senator, who’s been known to dismiss opponents with a scowl.

The campaigns sought to lower expectations, a common strategy so that both sides can declare victory no matter the performance and no matter the instant media reviews and reaction.

"The bloggers, tweeters, YouTubers and talk radio, cable talk … will all be circling like sharks for blood," said Peplowski, who predicted no big race shake-up unless there’s a major "melt-down."

The two sides clearly telegraphed their strategies ahead of the debate.

Reid will focus on Angle’s shifting stances, and she will deflect his attacks as a distraction from the No. 1 voter concern: Nevada’s worst-in-the-nation economy, including its record high 14.4 percent jobless rate.

"The debate is an introduction for many voters to Sharron. They have seen the 30-second television ads from both sides, but the debate is a chance for voters to see Sharron beyond short sound bites," said Angle spokesman Jarrod Agen. "Harry Reid will be personally attacking Sharron all night long because he loses if he sticks to the issues."

A four-term Reno assemblywoman, Angle is well known in Northern Nevada. She built up grassroots support in her last two close GOP primaries: a losing 2006 bid to unseat Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and a 2008 attempt to replace Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno. She’s now widely recognized in vote-rich Clark County, but mostly viewed through the prism of the ubiquitous TV ads.

Setting the bar low for the toe-to-toe tussle, Agen said, "Harry Reid is the majority leader and he debates on the Senate floor for a living. Sharron is a frank and honest grandmother from Reno. Harry clearly has a lifetime of practice at debates, but Sharron fortunately has the voters on her side."

The Reid campaign played down any advantage, saying the debate rules favor Angle since the incumbent won’t be allowed to offer long answers to complicated issues. Each candidate will be given one minute to respond to questions, although the first to answer will be allowed a brief rebuttal.

"While the format of 60-second answers is one that benefits her, Sharron Angle’s biggest challenge will be closing the credibility gap she created by lying to voters on issues from killing Social Security to privatizing the VA," said Reid spokesman Jon Summers. "She needs to explain why in recent weeks she’s claimed that her positions have changed, not just create new ones or deny previous positions."

Summers suggested Reid’s quiet way of speaking can be a drawback, but said Reid "has always been substance over style and prefers to explain the details about policy than be flashy and pithy."

"I think people will have an opportunity to see a soft-spoken man who truly cares about the state and has a vision for getting our economy back on track, rather than his opponent who relies on talking points and deceptive attacks," Summers said.

The debate, sponsored by the Nevada Broadcasters Association, will be moderated by Mitch Fox of Vegas PBS. It will be held inside the studio on specially built set for the face-off, which will be covered by dozens of journalists from around the world.

The candidates were allowed to invite only a dozen people each to watch the debate, although hundreds of sign-carrying supporters from both campaigns are expected to gather outside.

Security was beefed up for the event after a fist fight broke out between Reid and Angle supporters a few weeks ago at a Senate candidate forum held inside a private Christian school in Las Vegas.

Thursday’s debate is the only one the two candidates agreed on, mostly because it’s a neutral forum and Angle’s insisted she wouldn’t debate after early voting begins because she wanted "an informed electorate." More than half of Nevadans typically vote before Election Day, Nov. 2 this year.

Standing at separate podiums, the candidates will deliver opening and closing statements. TV and radio news directors were asked to submit questions, including from viewers and listeners. Questions were to be selected by Fox and executives from the broadcasters association.

Since the GOP primary, Angle has not wavered in her popular, Tea Party-backed push to extend Bush-era tax cuts for all and to cut other taxes and spending to reduce the record budget deficit.

But Angle has softened her once stark positions on how she would handle popular government programs such as Social Security and on how and where she would trim government.

Angle has called Social Security and Medicare "bankrupt systems" that need to be fixed, a belief she stands by today. But she initially also called for "transitioning out" of Social Security and privatizing it — an unpopular idea the GOP has pushed in the past with no success.

Angle has always emphasized that "government must continue to keep its contract with seniors" and pay all their Social Security benefits since they have already contributed to the system, according to her primary-era website. But the Reid campaigned claimed she wanted to "kill" Social Security.

In the face of the attacks, Angle shifted her focus and position, saying she wanted to pay back the $2.5 trillion owed to the Social Security fund and to allow young workers to "opt out" and open personal retirement accounts instead.

Although the Reid campaign has run ads claiming Angle has called for privatizing Veterans Affairs, she has denied proposing such a plan. There’s also no evidence Angle has suggested privatizing the VA in any of her position papers or issue pages on her pre- and post-primary websites.

The Reid claim comes from a radio interview Angle did in May in which she was talking about reforming Social Security and Medicare. She lamented that the VA wasn’t covering her father’s $800 in monthly prescription bills. Asked by the reporter if the VA should pay those bills, Angle said, "No, not if you’re working toward a privatized system."

Angle also initially called for closing U.S. agencies such as the Education Department, the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. She said the Constitution doesn’t specifically call for the federal government to carry out those duties, which she believed should be handled by the states. But since the primary, Angle has modified her position, saying those agencies should be trimmed, starting with an across-the- board federal spending cutback of 5 percent for the next five years.

For Angle’s part, she has several potential lines of attack against Reid.

In TV ads and on the trail, Angle has blamed Reid for Nevada’s continuing economic slide, noting the state’s unemployment rate has more than tripled since he became Democratic leader of the Senate.

In several sharp spots, the Angle campaign also calls Reid the "best friend" of illegal immigrants for pushing for immigration reform that could give them a path to U.S. citizenship. There are an estimated 130,000 undocumented workers in Nevada where 200,000 people are unemployed.

Reid has called the ads false since they include a disputable claim that he voted to give illegal immigrants Social Security and other tax benefits. Following debate on the issue, Reid led passage of a resolution to make it clear that illegal immigrants can’t receive such benefits.

The spots have fired up Hispanics, who mostly back Reid and make up a quarter of Nevada’s population. But they appeal to nonpartisan voters who largely support Arizona’s controversial law giving police more authority to stop illegal immigrants.

Contact Laura Myers at or 702-387-2919.

Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Krystal Whipple arrested in Arizona
Krystal Whipple, charged in the killing of a Las Vegas nail salon manager over a $35 manicure, is expected to return to Nevada to face a murder charge.
Holocaust survivor on acceptance
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, talks about the most important message for people to understand from her life and experiences.
Holocaust survivor speaks about telling her story
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, tells of opening up about her experiences during Sunday’s event at Temple Sinai.
Jesus Jara State of the Schools address
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara delivers his State of the Schools address on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Michael Naft sworn in to Clark County Commission
Michael Naft, chosen by Gov. Steve Sisolak to be his replacement on the Clark County Commission, was sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Opening Party in Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace
CES conventioneers packed Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace, and let loose as they danced to DJs into the night. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas police piecing together details of fatal shooting
Six hours after the fact, Las Vegas homicide detectives worked to reconstruct the scene of a shooting early Jan. 7 that left one man dead in the southeast valley. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dyer Lawrence explains college football playoff system proposal
Las Vegan Dyer Lawrence has a new idea for a college football playoff system that includes a unique scheduling component called National Call Out Day. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death row inmate Scott Dozier found dead in his cell
Nevada death row inmate Scott Dozier is dead. Dozier’s death ends his legal odyssey, which began in 2007 when he was convicted in the 2002 murder of Jeremiah Miller, but does little to clarify what’s next for Nevada’s death penalty.
I-15 southbound near Primm closed after ‘major crash’
A rollover crash Saturday morning involving at least nine vehicles on southbound Interstate 15 near Primm caused an hourslong traffic delay. Traffic was backed up to Sloan, live traffic cameras show. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death Valley visitors deal with shutdown
Visitors staying at the Furnace Creek Campground were forced to move from the campground following health and safety concerns due to lack of resources during the partial government shutdown at Death Valley National Park in Calif., on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Richard Brian Las Vegas Review-Journal @vegasphotograph
Half of homicides in Henderson for 2018 domestic violence related
Lt. Kirk Moore of the public information office of the city of Henderson police department speaks to the Review-Journal in Henderson, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. Henderson saw a slight increase in homicides in the past year. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak stops by Las Vegas Boys and Girls Club
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak kicks off his tour to Carson City, which will take him from Las Vegas, through Tonopah, and up to the capital city. First stop is the Downtown Boys & Girls Club.
Certificates for renewing wedding vows in Clark County
The Marriage License Bureau in Clark County began issuing a Certificate of Vow Renewal to married couples who are renewing their wedding vows on Jan. 3, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas flu season better than last year (so far)
Dr. Fermin Leguen, chief medical officer and director of clinical services at the Southern Nevada Health District, said there were 24 flu-related deaths at this point in the flu season. No deaths have been reported so far this year. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The Las Vegas Valley’s First Baby of 2019
The first 2019 baby in the Las Vegas Valley was Melialani Chihiro Manning, born at 12:10 a.m. at Henderson Hospital. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas NYE Fireworks - VIDEO
The full show: A spectacular view from the rooftop of the Trump International Hotel as 80,000 pyrotechnics illuminated the Las Vegas Strip at the stroke of midnight. Fireworks by Grucci choreographed launches from the Stratosphere, the Venetian, Treasure Island, Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Aria and MGM Grand.
Snow in Henderson on New Year's Eve morning
Light snow flurries in Anthem Highlands in Henderson on Monday morning, the last day of 2018.
Sources: Henderson Constable may face more charges
Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell may face additional charges ... stemming from his spending of county funds, sources said. Mitchell was indicted earlier this month on five felony theft and fraud charges ... after a Las Vegas Review-Journal story questioned his spending. But grand jury records show even more extensive spending including ... an $800 dinner at steakhouse ... nearly 200 atm withdrawals mostly at gambling establishments ... and even Disneyland tickets. But his attorney plans to ask a judge to dismiss the charges.
Las Vegas NYE Restrictions and Enhanced Security
If you are planning to celebrate New Year's Eve on the Las Vegas Strip or Fremont Street, be aware that you are not allowed to bring backpacks, coolers, strollers or glass. There will also be an increase in security to ensure safe celebrations across town.
Catholic Charities serves up 53rd annual Christmas dinner
Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and more than 100 volunteers served 1,000 Christmas meals to Southern Nevada's homeless and less fortunate. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @kmcannonphoto)
Henderson couple adds another school to their generosity
Bob and Sandy Ellis of Henderson, who donate to several Clark County School District schools, have added Matt Kelly Elementary in Las Vegas to their list of schools where every student gets new shoes, socks and a toy. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jeffrey Martin Added To Nevada's Black Book
Martin was one of four men convicted of theft and cheating at gambling in 2016 in Clark County District Court and sentenced to prison. The Nevada Gaming Commission voted unanimously Thursday to include Martin in the black book.
Raiders Stadium Timelapse
Construction on the new Raiders stadium continues in Las Vegas.
Buffalo Wild Wings security video
Security footage from a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in southwest Las Vegas captured a driver who repeatedly crashed into a vehicle in a failed attempt to squeeze into a tight parking spot.
The Magical Forest at Opportunity Village
Opportunity Village's Magical Forest added 1 million lights and a synchronized music show visible from all over the forest this year. The holiday attraction, which began in 1991, has a train, rides, food and entertainment along with the light displays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Navigating the new I-515 southbound to 215 Beltway ramp configuration
After opening at 5 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, the new Interstate 515 southbound to the 215 Beltway westbound freeway ramp configuration caused confusion amongst motorist. Here’s how to navigate the new ramp. (Mick Akers/ Las Vegas Review-Journal).
A record breaking donation of nearly $9 million to Girls Scouts of Southern Nevada
A record breaking donation of property valued at nearly $9 million was made to the Girls Scouts of Southern Nevada by the Charles and Phyllis M. Frias Charitable Trust. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal. @bizutesfaye
Kerry Clasby thanks the community for support after California fire damage
Intuitive Forager Kerry Clasby talks about the lessons of accepting help as she has gone through the Woolsey Fire disaster, in which she lost many of her belongings. About 100 people were on hand for an event that raised about $7,000.
News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like