Sharron Angle was every bit the hard line conservative she has been portrayed to be. Harry Reid was just as stiff and pedestrian a communicator as he has always been.
But the ideological divide between the Senate Majority Leader from Nevada and his Republican challenger was clear Thursday night in their one and only debate of the Senate campaign. The getting there was painful.
And whether the debate nudged a too-close-to-call race between the two either way won’t be known for several days, when new polling data is released.
Reid was on the defensive, unable to give a straight answer on whether abortion should be covered by President Obama’s health care legislation or whether English should be designated the nation’s official language by constitutional amendment.
Pressed as to why he and Obama focused on health care instead of jobs as their top priority in 2009, Reid said, “Health insurance reform creates job.”
Angle was the attack dog, knocking Reid for living in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Washington, D.C., implying that he had become wealthy through political connections, and challenging his masculinity.
“Man up Harry Reid. You need to understand that we have a problem with Social Security,” Angle said, arguing for a move toward a privatized form of the entitlement program.
Both were awkward and spoke in fits and starts, prompting an outpouring of derision on Twitter.
Angle did not run away from some of the more drastic positions she has taken, though she did try to soften the sharp edges. She articulated a belief in a free market capitalist system with virtually no regulatory restraints on large companies and corporations.
On education, she did not make an argument for abolishing the Department of Education but she did say that since its inception the quality of education has diminished in America. Education policy and money should be decided at the state and local level, she said.
“We need to take our 10th Amendment rights, put that education as close to the local level as possible, where parents and teachers make the policies,” she said.
But she stumbled when asked if there was anything that private insurance companies should be required to cover, such as mammograms and colonoscopies.
“What we have here is a choice between the free market and Americanism. America is about choices, and we need to allow people to have those choices,” Angle said. “The free market will weed out those companies that don’t offer as many choices and don’t have a cost effective system.”
On the other hand, Reid showed antipathy for the private sector, revealed he hasn’t been watching very many baseball or football games, and came a bit too close to describing unpleasant medical procedures in detail.
“Insurance companies don’t do things out of the goodness of their hearts. They do things out of a profit motive and they have almost destroyed our economy,” Reid said. “We need them to be forced to do mammograms.”
“That’s why you see … the baseball players wearing pink shoes and the football players wearing pink helmets,” Reid continued. “It’s because people dread breast cancer. And you don’t get breast cancer. You correct breast cancer. You detect it if you do mammograms.”
“Colonoscopies. If you do colonoscopies, colon cancer does not come because you snip off the things they find when they go up and, no more. And we need to have insurance companies do this,” he said.
Within hours of the debate’s conclusion, Reid’s campaign had cut a new ad based on Angle’s answer to the mandate question and posted it on YouTube.
Reid’s 27 years in Washington were much in evidence. He waffled on whether or not he would support extensions of the Bush tax cuts for all tax brackets, saying “we have to see what we are told by the experts.”
And Reid said that small businesses that have not benefited from the health overhaul “simply aren’t doing better because they don’t understand the law.”
One of the few ideas that both candidates agreed on was that the Federal Reserve should receive a full audit. Reid made a few plays to appeal to the conservative wave of voters who look for adherence to the Constitution, noting that he was carrying a copy of the nation’s founding document in his breast pocket.