The battle between Sen. Harry Reid and challenger Sharron Angle turned somewhat sordid today with the release of new advertisements in which the candidates trade sex-related charges.
Angle raised a new issue with a ad that accuses Reid of voting to spend "taxpayer dollars on Viagra for convicted child molesters and sex offenders."
A new Reid commercial, meanwhile, highlights an issue from the 1999 Nevada Legislature in which Angle voted against a bill to fund background checks of volunteers who assist nonprofit agencies that work with children.
"Sharron Angle voted to protect the privacy of sex offenders instead of the safety of our kids," Las Vegas family therapist Roberta VandeVoort says in the ad.
The advertisements probably come as little surprise to the campaigns, as the charges have been previewed through press releases they posted to their respective websites in recent weeks.
The "voting for Viagra" issue indeed was used earlier this year in a Republican ad against Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
The provocative issue was raised in the Senate in March by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., as one of a number of Republican amendments to the health care reform bill designed to force Democrats to cast tough votes.
It aimed "to reduce the cost of providing federally funded prescription drugs by eliminating fraudulent payments and prohibiting coverage of Viagra for child molesters and rapists and for drugs intended to induce abortion."
The amendment directed the Secretary of Health and Human Service to establish a fraud prevention system that would include prohibiting Medicare and Medicaid from covering prescriptions to treat erectile dysfunction for people convicted of sexual assault.
Coburn said a 2005 study showed "800 convicted sex offenders in 14 states received Medicaid-funded prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction." He later released a report in which the Congressional Research Service said the new health law would not preclude sex criminals who are not incarcerated from qualifying for coverage.
"So we have convicted sex offenders, rapists, and child molesters who were taking Federal tax dollars and buying a drug so they can act again," Coburn said.
Democrats declared the amendment to be a poison pill. It "makes a mockery of the Senate, the debate and the American people." said Sen, Max Baucus, D-Mont. "It is not a serious amendment. It is a crass political stunt aimed at making 30-second commercials, not public policy."
Reid at a press conference said the Coburn amendment "isn’t serious."
The Coburn amendment was killed 57-42 in a largely party line vote. The votes to table came from Democrats, while two Democrats — Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Evan Bayh of Indiana — voted with Republicans in its favor.
The Reid campaign slammed the ad, saying it "is entirely bereft of facts, as documented by numerous independent fact-checkers and media outlets."
Meanwhile, Reid’s attack on Angle centered on her vote against a bill by Assemblyman Dennis Nolan in the 1999 Legislature to create a $200,000 fund of donations and possibly state contributions to cover the cost of checks requested by nonprofits to screen volunteers who work directly with children, according to minutes of the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee.
"Ms. Angle expressed concern with the possible invasion of privacy and liability issues included in the bill," the minutes stated. "She stated voluntary programs always stepped up to become mandatory and she did not want to see the state get involved with things of a first amendment nature."
The bill eventually passed the Assembly 40-2. Angle voted against it, along with Democrat Tom Collins. Reid spokesman Jon Summers said the Republican "should be ashamed for holding such an extreme position."
Angle’s campaign did not comment. Republican Party spokesman Jahan Wilcox stepped in to say said any inference that Angle, "a mother of two and grandmother of 10, supports sex offenders is not only false, it’s disgusting."