LAS VEGAS (AP) — Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican rival Sharron Angle, both known for their verbal gaffes, are avoiding potentially unfriendly voters as much as each other.
In the nation’s most prominent Senate battle, only one debate has been scheduled. Meanwhile, the candidates have made few public appearances at events where they might face tough questions.
Nevada isn’t an Iowa or a New Hampshire. There’s no tradition of candidates feasting on funnel cake at the county fair or having a pint with constituents at the corner pub.
Still, voters say they want more from the candidates, who have largely waged a bruising campaign through attack ads.
“They don’t want to talk to us, but they want our vote,” said Robin Miller, 48, a Reid supporter.
Reid’s campaign said he agreed to three statewide debates.
“We were ready to rumble, and their campaign decided they didn’t want to debate,” said spokesman Kelly Steele.
Angle has said she will not debate after Oct. 16, when early voting begins, because she wants an “informed electorate.”
While the candidates have kept their distance, they haven’t held their tongues. The campaign has become a stew of nasty press releases and TV commercials, with Reid calling Angle “crazy” and “too extreme” and Angle dubbing Reid the “best friend an illegal alien ever had.”
Neither candidate is earning glowing reviews. According to recent polls, roughly 54 percent of voters have an unfavorable view of Reid, while 47 percent view Angle unfavorably.
With their penchants for unhinged sound bites and a race too close call, neither seems eager to engage in a verbal joust or venture far from their partisan bases.
Reid issued clarifications after he attributed President Barack Obama’s victory to his “light-skinned” appearance and said Hispanics can’t be Republicans.
Angle, meanwhile, made headlines when she said unemployment benefits have “spoiled our citizenry” and deemed a BP account for Gulf oil spill victims a “slush fund.”
The candidates’ carefully scripted schedules are jammed with closed-door fundraisers and private meetings with supporters.
“Sharron does more precinct walking and meet and greets than any candidate I have ever seen, and it is why she won the primary and is tied in the polls now,” spokesman Jarrod Agen said in an e-mail.
Angle is more often found speaking at tea party rallies or other rarely advertised events where like-minded supporters are likely to gather.
“She isn’t trying to hide,” said Mary Newman, 51, a Las Vegas supporter who has seen Angle at a handful of conservative rallies. “She wants to reach out to people who listen.”
Reid has a demanding job that keeps him in Washington for long stretches. When the Senate is in recess, he largely sticks to private or carefully orchestrated events where the chance for errors or confrontation is small.
“He doesn’t do the ‘pet the dog and kiss the baby’ circuit very well,” said Reid adviser Billy Vassiliadis. “He would rather stick a needle in his eardrum before he participated in a pie-eating contest.”
The closest the candidates have gotten to each other was at a one-hour candidate forum where Angle responded to Reid’s videotaped statements on the economy, health care and education. Reid was in Washington and couldn’t attend, his campaign said.
Angle, a tea party darling who wants to be elected to federal government so she can then minimize federal government, said national education polices have undermined learning gains and that federal regulations had handcuffed Nevada’s coal industry.
Reid, an unpopular fourth-term incumbent who has become one of the nation’s most powerful men, touted his ability to bring home federal dollars.
“You don’t take someone out of the game unless you have somebody better to put in,” he said.