The Republican candidate for Senate in Nevada, Sharron Angle, scored victories in both substance and style in an hourlong nationally televised debate with the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid.
On the substance, Ms. Angle emerged as a champion of the Constitution, faulting Mr. Reid for backing "unconstitutional bills like ObamaCare," invoking Nevada's "Tenth Amendment Rights" to control its education dollars, and reminding Mr. Reid, her Democratic opponent, that, "our founding fathers knew that the best government was a limited government." She framed the choice for voters as between Harry Reid and "big government" and herself and "limited, Constitutional government."
On the style, Ms. Angle appeared younger and more vigorous than Mr. Reid, who fumbled several times. At one point, Mr. Reid described the Supreme Court's Bush v. Gore (he called it "Gore versus Bush") decision as 5 to 4 when in fact significant elements were decided on a 7 to 2 basis and the opinion was issued "per curiam," or for the entire court. Another time, he referred to the "Department of Energy" when the question was about the department of education. He spent several awkward seconds of valuable debate time going into great detail about the mechanics of a colonoscopy (don't ask.)
Ms. Angle challenged him directly and repeatedly: "Man up, Harry Reid," she said at one point, asking the senator why Americans shouldn't have personal retirement accounts as part of Social Security like those that senators have. At another point, criticizing Mr. Reid for having demoralized the troops for saying that the Iraq war "is lost," she said, "you need to apologize to them."
Each candidate had a few surprising moments. Ms. Angle faulted President Reagan for his immigration policy: "He had it wrong when he gave amnesty in '86," she said. Asked about the Supreme Court, Senator Reid praised Justice Antonin Scalia and also Justice Byron White, who dissented from Roe v. Wade. Ms. Angle, who as a general matter called for less government spending, faulted Mr. Reid and ObamaCare for having "cut half a trillion dollars out of Medicare right at the point where seniors need."
Overall, though, the debate was a robust contest between two different philosophies of government and theories of economics. Ms. Angle called for less government taxing, regulating, and spending. Mr. Reid railed against "big banks," "those greedy bankers on Wall Street," oil companies, and "insurance companies," which he said "have almost destroyed our economy."
Ms. Angle tried some class warfare against Mr. Reid, opening: "Senator Reid lives in the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C.," and asking him, "How did you become so wealthy on a government payroll?"
"The solutions to the health care....are the free market," she said, questioning the wisdom of requiring insurance policies to pay for specific procedures such as mammograms or colonoscopies. "America is a country of choices, not forcing people to buy things they don't need," she said.
Mr. Reid fired back by denouncing what he said was Ms. Angle's "extreme idea," and by insisting, "she simply doesn't understand what went on in Washington."
Ms. Angle defended her call for eliminating the federal Department of Education, saying she had served as a teacher for 25 years. "We send out money to Washington D.C. to be skimmed off by 6,000 bureaucrats" and then returned with unfunded mandates, she said.
In a to-and-fro over extending the Bush tax cuts, Ms. Angle's line was, "It's not the federal government's money, it's our money."
All in all, it was a night that seemed to throw some serious doubt over the New York Times's primary night assessment of Ms. Angle's victory, which was as follows, and should be clipped and saved for election night should Ms. Angle pull off the victory that is indicated by recent polls showing her with a narrow lead:
The nomination of Ms. Angle could provide a boost to Mr. Reid's hopes, and Mr. Reid's aides said they were preparing to seize on positions she has taken to try to portray her as out of touch with most Nevada voters. For example, she has called for the privatization of Social Security, the elimination of the Department of Energy, and cutting back regulation on Wall Street, all positions that could give Mr. Reid's well-financed campaign ammunition to use in television advertisements against her. She also does not have the organization or financial resources that Mr. Reid is bringing to the race.