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Reid-Angle debate decided one thing: Voting will be no treat

Halloween arrived early Thursday as Nevadans were visited by jostling goblins in the form of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican challenger Sharron Angle.

These trick-or-treaters weren’t seeking candy, but far sweeter stuff: precious undecided voters. Angle and Reid approached our homes not in the traditional way, with a knock at the door, but managed to slip in via television screens in a debate aired statewide and nationally on C-SPAN.

Both came in costume. Reid portrayed himself as a former poor boy from Searchlight. Angle as a mother and grandmother, not a career politician.

The fact is, Reid hasn’t been poor in decades. Angle has been involved in politics for 20 years.

To Democrats, Angle was the Wicked Witch serving up extreme and dangerous Tea Party brew. For Republicans, Reid was a fading apparition in a bad tie: Harry the Milquetoast Ghost.

I watched hoping, naively, that Angle would be nuanced and compassionate and Reid would show vision and passion. Instead, something spookier happened. They played to type.

Angle, a true Tea Party revolutionary, reminded us we can expect only tough love if she’s elected. She did nothing to allay concerns she’d advocate gutting Social Security, Medicare, the Department of Education and the Veterans Administration as a matter of rock-ribbed principle. She opposes all insurance mandates and was only too happy to remind viewers, "Once again, Harry Reid, it’s not your job to create jobs."

Nothing Angle said made me think she would ever fight for working people against big corporations. When pressured, Angle resorted to mentioning the Constitution and the "free market" as the answers to our nation’s complex problems.

Reid, meanwhile, sounded like a tired old Senate warhorse. He seemed so ghostly I was tempted to get up and adjust the contrast on the TV set. Nothing he whispered made me confident he has the vision it will take to lead the country out of the current economic crisis. (Which by the way, senator, is what people wanted to hear from you.)

He wasn’t entirely devoid of ideas, but nothing he’s said or done has dented Nevada’s highest-in-the-nation unemployment rate or solved our home mortgage crisis.

I guess that’s the scariest part: One of these trick-or-treaters is going to win on Nov. 2.

It’s always a mistake to expect too much from a debate. They’re watched mostly by people who have already made up their minds, but I came away almost wondering what Scott Ashjian’s ideas were. (Hey, I said almost.)

Not surprisingly, both sides claimed victory. "Man up, Harry Reid" became the sound bite of the night, but Angle confused me totally by uttering the nonsensical, "What we have is a choice between the free market and Americanism."

Reid seemed to struggle to keep from fading before our eyes, ending his entirely lackluster performance by misplacing his talking points on the lectern. "Got to find my notes here," he said. "Got a lot of paper here."

The only clear winner in the debate was moderator Mitch Fox of Vegas PBS. Fox asked challenging questions and tried to corral the witch and the ghost when they substituted haunting political fog for straight answers.

In Angle you get a conservative demagogue whose starched beliefs ensure she’d run headlong into obscurity in a Republican Senate caucus that traded her sacred Constitution for a corporate logo years ago.

In Reid, you get a fading power broker with plenty of juice, questionable judgment and misplaced papers.

Between the two, they’ll spend many millions over the next two weeks smearing each other while simultaneously reminding you they have grandchildren and humble beginnings. These tricksters will haunt you right through your television sets.

Isn’t that the scariest thought of all?

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.

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