Reid, Angle disagree on terms; debate called off

Nevada voters won’t likely get a chance to see U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and his GOP rival Sharron Angle publicly debate in one of the most closely watched, high-stakes Senate races in the nation.

After two months of talks, the Nevada Broadcasters Association on Friday called off its proposed debate in October when the campaigns couldn’t agree on a date. Each side accused the other of causing the impasse and trying to avoid debates.

Angle insisted that the debate happen before early voting begins Oct. 16 in Nevada, but Reid’s campaign said the Senate still might be in session through mid-October and wanted a later date, according to Bob Fisher, president and CEO of the broadcasters association.

The association decided to propose an Oct. 21 debate to accommodate Reid, the majority leader who controls the Senate schedule, but Angle’s campaign refused to accept, Fisher said.

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen,” Fisher said. “We are very disappointed because we felt that this was something the voters really should have. They deserve it.”

Fisher said the decision to call off the debate “isn’t irreversible,” but the association is running out of time to arrange the live Las Vegas event for more than 50 TV and radio stations in Nevada.

The Angle campaign said the former Reno assemblywoman wanted to debate before voters start going to the ballot box. More than half of Nevada’s electorate takes advantage of early voting.

The proposed Oct. 21 debate would have come nearly half-way through the Oct. 16-29 early voting period. Election Day is Nov. 2. 

“Every voter deserves to see a fair and open debate prior to the start of voting,” Angle spokesman Jerry Stacy said. “Senator Reid’s own D.C. office sets the date for recess, and Senator Reid’s own D.C. office has scheduled the session to end before early voting begins. If the majority leader wanted to come back to his home state to debate, then he has the power to do so.”

Republicans also complained that Reid has on occasion traveled or shifted the Senate schedule so that he could attend fundraisers for his own campaign and for other Democrats.

But Reid campaign manager Brandon Hall said the majority leader expected the Senate to meet in overtime beyond a scheduled Oct. 8 adjournment date that he had announced “because Republicans in D.C. have engaged in unprecedented obstructionism this year,”

“Angle’s new D.C. handlers started using the arbitrary early vote deadline after it became clear Senator Reid might not be available, again indicating they’d prefer to keep their candidate muzzled, but don’t want Nevada voters to see their scheme,” Hall said in a statement.

The Reid campaign also noted that Angle debated during early voting in 2006 when she lost the Republican primary to Rep. Dean Heller.

From the night Angle won the June 8 primary, she has repeatedly challenged Reid to debate. But he outmaneuvered her by unilaterally accepting two, including the broadcasters’ nonpartisan forum that would have been moderated by Mitch Fox, the PBS host of “Nevada Week in Review.”

The other debate Reid agreed to was to be Oct. 19 in Reno, sponsored by Sunbelt Communications and the Las Vegas Sun with at least two of its journalists questioning the candidates along with a Northern Nevada reporter. The newspaper is published by Brian Greenspun, a vocal Reid supporter who has contributed to the senator’s campaign and the Democratic Party.

Angle refused the Sun-sponsored debate, saying it wasn’t a nonpartisan forum. And she suggested instead that a conservative talk show host such as Rusty Humphries moderate a debate instead — a forum the Reid campaign quickly rejected as biased.

The broadcasters association debate was widely viewed as the most neutral forum.

Fisher, the president, said he had negotiated separately with each side for a couple months.

Initially, Reid proposed holding the debate on a Saturday night, Fisher said, when TV viewership is low. Reid also proposed including all the Senate candidates, which would have precluded a face-off with Angle. Broadcasters rejected the idea, saying the other contenders didn’t meet qualifications as serious candidates. They include four nonpartisan candidates, one for the Independent American Party and Scott Ashjian of the Nevada Tea Party, which he helped form to get himself on the ballot.

After the Reid campaign agreed to a non-Saturday, one-on-one debate with Angle, his representatives said the senator’s participation couldn’t be guaranteed until the week of Oct. 18 because Congress could go into overtime before the last campaign break.

The broadcasters settled on Oct. 21 with Reid, and Fisher proposed the date to Angle’s campaign manager Terry Campbell, who responded with a letter making suggestions about format and proposing four alternate dates, all before early voting: Oct. 11, 13, 14 and 15.

Fisher said the date wasn’t negotiable. He didn’t reveal any format details included in the letter, but Angle talked in an AOL interview about how her campaign wanted the debate to go down.

“He said he would like to have his talking points available to him. We said no, we would like a microphone, no podium, let’s just talk,” Angle told AOL, referring to Reid.

“And if you’ll notice, Senator Reid always has written notes,” she added. “He doesn’t take anything that’s not choreographed or at least filtered before he takes questions. So that’s what we’re trying to do is negotiate some legitimate terms for the debate, and not have Harry Reid set the terms for the debate and play by his rules.”

Reid campaign manager Hall accused Angle of spreading “lies about disputes over micro-level details” and said no such format issues had been discussed with the Reid campaign.

Six years ago, Reid refused to participate in a debate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, with his GOP opponent Richard Ziser, whom Reid handily defeated by winning two-thirds of the vote.

In 1998, when Reid barely beat John Ensign –who now holds Nevada’s second Senate seat — the two traded charges of ducking debates after an American Association of Retired Persons forum fell apart when then-Rep. Ensign said he had to remain in Washington for an important House vote. The two men did debate several times in the closing weeks of the campaign.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.

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