Worst. Debate. Ever. But, Advantage Angle

Last night's one and only Nevada Senate Debate was an embarrassing affair all around, but it most likely sealed the electoral doom of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Last night’s one and only debate between Sharron Angle and Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid will be remembered more for its mistakes and overall awkwardness than for the performance of either of it’s participants:

LAS VEGAS – Republican Sharron Angle lashed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the only debate of the Nevada Senate race Thursday night, telling the Democrat to “man up” at one point and questioning how he got wealthy during his years in Congress. Reid repeatedly called Angle “extreme” and touted his work on behalf of the economically beleaguered state.

While neither gaffe-prone candidate committed a major error, both struggled throughout the hour-long forum at a PBS station to convey their message and defend their past statements. The much-anticipated showdown here had more flubs than fireworks.

Angle repeatedly found herself in verbal cul-de-sacs which she only escaped by returning to well-rehearsed talking points – all the while blurring over some of her controversial statements or ignoring questions about them altogether.

Reid was also inarticulate, frequently using the parlance of the Senate and offering kind words about former President George W. Bush and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia—hardly the way to motivate his Democratic base.

Even more puzzling, with the polls deadlocked and his career on the line, the four-term senator largely avoided engaging Angle. For a hard-nosed politician who prides himself on his youthful boxing exploits, he threw surprisingly few punches.

The former state assemblywoman and tea party favorite was, in her halting fashion, the aggressor of the evening, going after the incumbent with a series of tough attacks.

Reid also seemed to think that he was debating on a Senate floor rather than in a television studio on Las Vegas:

Reid also frequently sounded as if he was talking to colleagues inside the Senate caucus instead of communicating with Nevada voters watching on statewide TV.

In defending his record on veterans he twice cited “Wounded Warrior” legislation with no explanation of what it was. In discussing Social Security, he referred to “the CBO” and “the trust fund.” With abortion, it was “the Hyde Amendment.”

Discussing the policy on gays in the military, Reid said: “I would respectfully suggest to my opponent that she simply doesn’t understand what went on in Washington.”

In the end, though, neither candidate acquitted themselves very well last night. However, this was Harry Reid’s debate to win or lose. As a five-term incumbent, he shouldn’t even be in this fight for his political life and the question going in to the debate was whether he would be able to give Nevada voters a reason to vote for him rather than Angle. He failed.

For one thing, Reid came across as unprepared, detached, and, at times, just really weird, as in this moment when he somehow turned a question about health care reform into an opportunity to describe the details of a colonoscopy:

Or, in a moment reminiscent of Admiral James Stockdale in 1992, when he was asked to give a closing statement:

Ugh.

Angle should not even be competitive in this race, and the fact that she is is a reflection of just how strongly Nevada voters dislike Harry Reid at this point in his career (just take a look at his favorable and job approval ratings). He doesn’t seem to have done anything last night to give them a reason to vote for him anyway. Barring any flubs by Angle in the last two weeks of the campaign, I suspect that she may just eke out a victory here.

Veteran Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston, who has been particularly tough on Angle recently over her refusal to answer press questions, agrees that Reid lost last night:

Let’s get the easy part out of the way first:

Sharron Angle won The Big Debate.

Angle won because she looked relatively credible, appearing not to be the Wicked Witch of the West (Christine O’Donnell is the good witch of the Tea Party) and scoring many more rhetorical points. And she won because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid looked as if he could barely stay on a linear argument, abruptly switching gears and failing to effectively parry or thrust.

Whether the debate affects the outcome — I believe very few Nevadans are undecided — it also perfectly encapsulated the race: An aging senator who has mastered the inside political game but fundamentally does not seem to care about his public role (and is terrible at it) versus an ever-smiling political climber who can deliver message points but sometimes changes her message or denies a previous one even existed.

(…)

I still find it incredible that more has not been made of Angle’s most egregious statement this campaign — and it didn’t even come up Thursday — which was her assertion in Mesquite this month that Sharia law had been imposed in two American cities, one of which doesn’t even exist. This Muslim-baiting, noxious construction has been ignored by all but a few news outlets (kudos to CNN), and her answer is almost more astounding: She read it somewhere so she repeated it.

That is crazy, folks. But that’s not how she came across Thursday, as Reid failed to call her on that and many other topics, making it more likely he has to make an unthinkable call to her on Election Night

If I was a Nevada voter, I’d exercise my option to vote for None Of The Above. For Nevada voters on the margins, though, I think last night’s debate may have just been enough to seal Harry Reid’s fate.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, Congress, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. steve says:

    Form over substance without much substance.

    Steve

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Highlights the perils of debates for incumbents. If you won’t debate, you look afraid. If you do debate, you risk giving your opponent credibility.

  3. Also, you risk appearing on camera and acting befuddled and apparently out of touch.

  4. Brummagem Joe says:

    Many thought Palin won the debate against Biden. Few of these debates are decisive and I don’t see this one either saving or dooming Reid.

  5. Reid did nothing to confront his opponent at the same time that he was clearly out of touch and befuddled.

    After watching it, I have to wonder how he ever managed to get elected to begin with.

    It will still be close, but Reid had a chance to give Nevadans a reason to vote for him last night and he failed.

  6. Brummagem Joe says:

    “It will still be close, but Reid had a chance to give Nevadans a reason to vote for him last night and he failed.”

    And you think some of the more zany comments by Angle that I saw reported are likely to resonate with ordinary Nevadans?

  7. And you think some of the more zany comments by Angle that I saw reported are likely to resonate with ordinary Nevadans?

    Have you seen the polls?

    If it weren’t for Reid’s own negative baggage, this wouldn’t even be a race. Obviously, there’s a near-majority of Nevadans already willing to vote for her even if she is wacky just because they’re done with him. Given the presence of a third-party candidate and the NOTA option, Angle does not need to get above 50% to win this race.

    Like I said, it’s going to be close but after last night I think she’s going to do it.

  8. Steve Plunk says:

    If voters base their votes on issues Angle has this one in the bag.

  9. ponce says:

    “It will still be close, but Reid had a chance to give Nevadans a reason to vote for him last night and he failed.”

    How about it’s better for a state to be represented by the second most powerful man in the federal government that an extremist crackpot who who never be given any power at all?

  10. Brummagem Joe says:

    Doug Mataconis says:
    Friday, October 15, 2010 at 10:27
    “Have you seen the polls?”

    Polls on what? The status of the race? Reactions to the debate? Why do you answer my questions with questions. It is indeed amazing that this is close given this woman’s obvious craziness but Nevada is a fairly red state so it should hardly be a revelation that even Republican crazies can be competitive. We’re seeing the same phenomena in Kentucky and Alaska. I’ve never denied Republican irrationality. Democrats suffer from the same problem at times but on nothing like the same scale.

  11. Brummagem Joe says:

    “How about it’s better for a state to be represented by the second most powerful man in the federal government that an extremist crackpot who who never be given any power at all?”

    The typical Republican voter in Nevada and the uber rationalist Doug don’t see this as a problem.

  12. ponce says:

    “The typical Republican voter in Nevada and the uber rationalist Doug don’t see this as a problem.”

    I’m sure the good citizens of Illinois will be quite happy to have the President and The Senate Majority leader representing them in D.C. if the citizens of Nevada decide it’s in their best interest to shut off Harry Reid’s fire hose of pork that’s been propping up their economy.

  13. Wayne says:

    RE “If I was a Nevada voter, I’d exercise my option to vote for None Of The Above”

    So you have no problem with people “not voting”?

    FYI
    I don’t. Sometimes candidates are not worth voting for. However there are those who think you have an obligation to vote or “get out and vote even if you have no clue what you voting on” attitude.

  14. Joe & ponce,

    Your question presumes that the only reason to vote for or against someone is based on how much money they will bring to your state. Obviously, voters this year have other criteria in mind and personally I’ve never taken that into consideration when entering the voting booth

  15. Wayne,

    So you have no problem with people “not voting”?

    None at all.

  16. Joe,

    These polls:

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2010/senate/nv/nevada_senate_angle_vs_reid-1517.html

    Angle has stayed within striking distance — and has a good shot at winning — because Reid has worn out his welcome with Nevada voters. After five terms, it would seem to be about time

  17. Brummagem Joe says:

    Doug Mataconis says:
    Friday, October 15, 2010 at 12:35

    “These polls:”

    Doug without being very well up on it I know the polls are close. As I explained above it’s irrational basically for reasons of political identity.

    “Your question presumes that the only reason to vote for or against someone is based on how much money they will bring to your state.”

    Since US politics is essentially a spoils system this consideration isn’t without merit but my basic problem is that I don’t favor electing crazy people to the senate. I know this isn’t an issue with you as I’ve pointed out a few times.

  18. jwest says:

    Doug,

    My girl just surged 10 points after the debate. Watch O’Donnell close the rest of the gap quickly.
    http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/elections/election_2010/election_2010_senate_elections/delaware/election_2010_delaware_senate

  19. Brummagem Joe says:

    ‘Watch O’Donnell close the rest of the gap quickly.’

    yeah right

  20. jwest,

    No, she isn’t closing the gap. The eleven point lead that Coons has in this Rasmussen poll is the same lead he had two weeks ago. Also, there is a new Survery USA poll out showing that 56% of those polled said Coons won the debate and only 2% said the debate changed their mind about the election.

    I discuss both polls in this brief post:

    https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/delaware-senate-coons-won-debate-maintains-lead-over-odonnell/

  21. ponce says:

    “Obviously, voters this year have other criteria in mind and personally I’ve never taken that into consideration when entering the voting booth”

    Hmmm, I always take that into consideration when voting…that and how my vote will affect which party will run Congress.

  22. John425 says:

    BrummagenJoe bemoans electing “extremist crackpots”. Does that include Dennis Kucinich, who has seen UFOs? Does it include Joe Biden, who wouldn’t ride the commuter train for fear of the flu? Does it include Jimmy Carter, who had hand-to-hand combat with a rabbit?

  23. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***extremist crackpot***lol, that means alot comming from a 1%er member of the 20%er cult…

  24. ponce says:

    “***extremist crackpot***lol, that means alot comming from a 1%er member of the 20%er cult…”

    RCP just moved Patty Murray (D-Cultist) into the Dem column even after Rove ran $5 million worth of his amateur hour fringe Right propaganda.

    His ads are so bad he’ll probably be responsible for the Dems holding the Senate even if the Federal Dependency of Nevada boots Harry..

  25. Brummagem Joe says:

    John425 says:
    Friday, October 15, 2010 at 18:47
    ‘BrummagenJoe bemoans electing “extremist crackpots”. Does that include Dennis Kucinich,”

    I never said there are no crackpots in the Dem party and Kucinich is certainly one of them. Your others are just reflective of some personal crackpottery I’m afraid.

  26. Brummagem Joe says:

    “His ads are so bad he’ll probably be responsible for the Dems holding the Senate even if the Federal Dependency of Nevada boots Harry..”

    Rove’s ads are all over our station tonight along with ads from every one else. A completely confusing mish mash. It was truly unbelieveable. As for Republican hopes Rove was going to slip his stuff under the radar that doesn’t seem to be working either. The lead on our local tv tonight was secret Republican groups running ads to influence instate races.

  27. ponce says:

    “The lead on our local tv tonight was secret Republican groups running ads to influence instate races.”

    Yeah, I keep harping on how harmful Rove’s ads must be to the Republican cause but I haven’t seen any blogs picking up on it yet.

    Maybe you have to live in a Senate toss up state and see them to understand.

    He’s losing them the Senate.

  28. Brummagem Joe says:

    “Maybe you have to live in a Senate toss up state and see them to understand.”

    It was against Chris Murphy a congressman. But the torrent of ads was on a scale I’ve never seen before. Every commercial break for an hour, an hour, was made up of ads for/against Blumenthal, McMahon, Foley, Malloy, Murphy, Courtney, Caliguri, Peckinpaugh and sundry dog catchers. No Levitra, Cialis or GM to lighten our day. Consequence confusion and or switch off.

  29. Duracomm says:

    If we had a functioning media folks would know congress is filled with people who never had much in the way of smarts, common sense, or other redeeming values in the first place.

    Incumbents have used the laydown media, their fundraising advantage, gerrymandering, and campaign finance laws to make sure they don’t face effective electoral challenges.

    The tea party and popular revulsion at the democrat’s behavior started to upset this status quo.

    A good benefit of this is many conservative pundits revealed themselves to be status quo worshiping hacks who would prefer to see reid in office instead of angle.

    These are the same class of pundits who have faith that tea party candidates are the problem, not inside the beltway, establishment, go along to get along republicans like trent lott.

    It has been eye opening to find out what pundits have a somewhat consistent conservative philosophy and which ones are concerned with the preservation of the business as usual, big government, inside the beltway politics.