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jon ralston:

Thoughts on the Reid-Angle debate

Reid Angle Debate - Oct. 14 2010

Sharron Angle and Sen. Harry Reid exchange pleasantries after their debate, moderated by Mitch Fox, center, on Thursday at the Vegas PBS studios. Launch slideshow »

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.

Look upon these works, ye mighty, and despair.

As I watched the debate, I felt all the years that Nevada has striven to surmount its seamy image fading away as the nation watched this sad spectacle. As Slate’s John Dickerson wryly put it on Twitter: “After watching the Nevada Senate debate I really wish that what happens in Vegas could stay in Vegas.”

I know we Nevadans get our backs up when the national media condescends. We are a proud bunch; we love our state. But as I surveyed the post-mortems in the 140-character world, where concision often yields brutal truth, you could almost sense the head-shaking as the national types opined:

NBC’s Chuck Todd: “Reid’s problem tonight is that while Angle wasn’t great, his performance made her look passable.”

Politico’s Dave Catanese: “Utterly subpar.”

Political Wire’s Taegan Goddard: “Reid didn’t knock out Angle but she had him on the ropes. Have to give the edge to Angle ...”

Political writer Taylor Marsh may have summed it up best: “Sharron Angle passed the ‘I’m not crazy test’ with flying colors. Focused too. This lady just might pull this off. Reid didn’t take her out.”

But did he take himself out, once and for all, with his dismissiveness, his sarcastic and loopy use of “my friend” and Senatese, his shifting of subjects in the middle of thoughts, beginning with his opening statements?

It is difficult to say beyond CSPAN watchers being appalled across the country — and probably sending checks to The $14 Million Woman as they watched — if the debate had any electoral effect. But Reid, as he did with a veterinarian named John Ensign 12 years ago, seemed almost in disbelief that he was on the same stage with Angle. If it was possible, I think he would have had a Bush 41 look-at-my-watch moment.

There was much revisionist history in the debate by both candidates, but, as usual, mostly from Angle. Reid called a man he once all but called a liar (Gen. David Petraeus) and a man he did call a liar and loser (Bush 43) his friends. But he also used that collegial term to refer to Angle, as if he were speaking to some senator he despises (they do that on the floor).

But Angle, as she often does, when confronted with previous positions from abolishing the Education Department to phasing out Social Security and Medicare, just plows ahead as if her reinvention project is perfectly believable. If she says she never said it, maybe she never did — unless, as has so often happens but could not Thursday, someone plays Warner Wolf and goes to the videotape.

The most striking example was when moderator Mitch Fox asked her about calling the unemployed “spoiled.” Angle claimed Reid “mischaracterized” what she had said. What? She has apologized for making the comment.

My guess, though, is no one noticed as Reid didn’t point that out (hello, debate prep) and didn’t effectively deconstruct many of her automaton-like message points. She just kept coming and coming — Obamacare, Obamacare, Obamacare — the Tea Party’s and Nevada’s Energizer Bunny who never, ever stops running.

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.

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  1. I felt very differently watching the debate. Rude Pundit summed up things quite well:

    Reid: "Here's stuff I really did."
    Angle: "Random Tea Party talking point."
    Reid: "Here's more stuff I did."
    Angle: "Obamacare."

    That about says her entire plan as U.S. Senator.

    Which, God help us all, might be just what Nevadans want.

  2. Reid sealed his fate when we didn't answer a simple "yes" or "no" question not once, but twice. Mitch did him no favors by giving him a pass on those.

    As if that wasn't bad enough, one of the nights only gaffes came when Reid said "English is the official language" instead of saying "yes" or "no".

    Angle wins not because she was great, but because Reid was only so-so.

  3. is it uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh or duhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh sharon? was that opening statement you or a robot . Harry won with facts not retoric .

  4. Hey Jon;
    witch debate were you watching?

    No, Harry Reid is not a showman on stage.
    In fact, he looked a little disorganized and doesn't play to the camera well. He's no great communicator.

    That said, I sure liked the SUBSTANCE of Reid versus the shallow, callow, TeaSpeak of Angle.

  5. Comment removed by moderator. Comment was in all caps.

  6. hey baldone, look around. Iranian influence has reached the Mediterranean. Why? Because we destroyed Iraq which had kept it bottled up. We did this in response to a terrorist attack to which it had NO connection at all. We did this because we fabricated an idea that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and it had NONE. Our "victory" consists of having spent somewhere between 3 and 5 TRILLION Dollars knocking apart one country with the unintended consequence that an aggressive, terrorist-supporting, on-the-way-to-being Nuclear weaponized Imperial State has been given free rein to work mischief.

    (Oh, if we went to war in Iraq for the largest existing undeveloped reserves of cheap-to-produce oil, the development and production rights have been awarded by Iraq to Russian, Chinese, and French companies.)

    But the expenses of the Iraq War were left unfunded. A "Republican" administration cut taxes temporarily to "stimulate the economy." That led to a capital crisis misreported as a Housing Bubble. The result was an economic meltdown which still hasn't completed its course.

    Take a look around -- a good, hard, honest look. Our economy has been severely damaged, our strategic power has been and continues to be cannibalized, and our real enemies are starting to run amok. Are those the signs of victory? Or are they traditional markers of defeat?

    And when our former adversary lends us money and builds factories here to create American jobs using technology we invented, is it anything but the "Marshall Plan" for the vanquished?

    I don't like Reid -- never have. But I won't vote for a hypocrite or an idiot.

  7. That is an interesting observation Mr Ralston. Most of the polls that I have seen in Nevada this morning favored Senator Reid. Some polls as much as 30% other by 5% - 8%, but in all cases Senator Reid came out ahead. If you watched the debate Ms Angle seemed to trip over her own points of view. I guess when you change positions as much as she has it is hard to remember what to say. The one point I have to agree on is that that she did not come off as being crazy, which is quite a shock, so her handlers have done quite well with her in that respect. Still she must have been a great disappointment to her handlers. I imagine Karl Roves and his cronies ares crying in their coffee this morning.

  8. I think you did a good job on this one Jon. I don't like either one of them, but I'll grudgingly vote for Angle, and only because she will be a much needed No vote - just like she was in our State Senate.

    That being said, I was very offended by her comment that Harry is only wealthy because of his terms in the Senate. He was wealthy before he went into politics, period. She attacked lawyers. They have a right to profit from their work just like the industrialists, the small business owners, etc. Sounds to be she wants to use her "hammer" to put lawyers out of business instead of the bankers and industrialists the Dems want to crack down on. Same old BS.

  9. Reid has caused enough destruction in the US Senate. "The War is Lost," Bush is a liar, probably did not read the "ObamaCare" Bill, just a few of the negatives on his resume. Angle deserves a chance to make Nevada a great state again.

  10. To Cili - you say Harry Reid was wealthy BEFORE he got to the Senate. Do tell us, how it was he made his money then. I'm sure you haven't a clue, because neither does anyone else. It's Harry's BIG SECRET!! I'm interested in one HUGE thing in this election, and that's getting rid of a government official who doesn't give a damn about the people in his State. The reality is, Harry Reid finds Nevadans despicable lowlifes that are too stupid to care or follow his antics in the Senate! VOTE OUT HARRY REID AND SHOW HIM JUST HOW SMART NEVADANS REALLY ARE!

  11. A large majority of Nevadans disagree with Reid on Health Care, the Stimulus, Immigration, and Bailouts. All Angle had to do is show she wasn't crazy. Instead, she won. Good Bye Harry.

  12. Harry really blew his facts on Social Security. More than once he said Social Security is solid for 35 - 40 years.

    From the SS Trustees report: http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/TRSUM/index.html...
    "...redeeming trust fund assets until reserves are exhausted in 2037, at which point tax income would be sufficient to pay about 75 percent of scheduled benefits ..."

    That looks like a max of only 27 years to me that people can expect full benefits if nothing is done.

  13. I watched the debate and thought Sharon bopped Harry. He seemed his smug, smarmy self looking at her as if she were the alien when actually, it is his, San Fran Nan's and Bama's ideology and LEGISLATION that is alien to NV and American values and economic sense. It is time also to look down ticket because Dems seem to follow Harry et al and even try to cover their D decal on the ballot. This means wiping out Dem reps, state Leg. and guv candidates. When state socialism is the fervor of one of our national party and their clones push taxes,spending, Care, cap and trade, regs and a horrid foreign policy all based on an alien philosophy,it is time for citizens to purge them from the Body Politic.

  14. To TxBigDog: No resident of Texas has a right to an opinion of who should represent Nevada in Washington, especially considering where the leader of the last administration came from. You may, however, have succeeded in revealing the identical intellects of Bush and Angle. Trust me. We won't miss your presence here as a tourist, either.

  15. It was cringe worthy. Mr Reid seems like my old pastor. He didn't want to offend anyone. I cannot understand why he didn't put Mrs Angle in her place when she made direct assertions. He could have called her out and made her answer but he let it go. If it was my job on the line I would not hesitate in putting the nice old lady away with coherent and direct answers. But Mr Reid seemed too busy writing and not paying attention to Mrs Angle to care. Face it Harry, you got to assert some gumption and have her own up to her words. It seems as Nevada will suffer from whomever it chooses. Lord help us.

  16. Reid should have pointed out that the Angles fed at the Federal Government teat for their whole lives and consume BLM Federal Government medicalcare now.

    Ralston should man-up and find out whoes paying for Angle's friend Jim "the garage" Gibbons Medical care? I thought he didn't like government medical care and that's why he's sueing the Feds.

    How come he needed to travel all over the world as governor and now doesn't have to?

    And who owns this mysterious ranch? Do they sell horses to meat packers in Canada and Mexico?

  17. I don't agree that Angle won this debate. She didn't blow Reid away no matter how he presented himself. Angle just kept repeating the same talking points that she constantly flip-flops on. As an Independent what troubles me about Angle is how this person who hates government so much wants a government job so badly. She's a total hypocrate.

  18. I disagree with Jon Ralston. In order for the demonstrable willfully ignorant, Sharron Angle, to have won this debate would require the vast majority of viewers to be equally willfully ignorant.

  19. Harry Reid had the facts on his side? Would that be when he said English is our official language? Or that Social Security is sound for 35 - 40 years? Or maybe when he denied that HCR would place an extra $100M burden on Nevada's Medicaid? (It was the moderator who repeated the claim in a question, and even his Rory admits it.)

    I might be inclined to grant some leeway for Reid referring to Hoover Dam as "Boulder Dam", if only because at his age he might have forgotten that it was made official in 1947, and prior to that it sorta depended on what party you belonged as to what you called it.

    Yeah, Harry has his facts.

  20. Looks like Harry had already accepted that he's a loser even before the debate started.

    He didn't even try to be interested...it was embarrassing for him.

    Harry Reid has already retired.

  21. Since he's already retired lets not pay him for six more years....

  22. The Winner of a Debate is THE BEST DEBATER!

    Or should we say, the Master Debater?

    Facts, history, truth (what is that?) have nothing to do with winning a debate, because a debate is theatrical and the audience can be mostly partisan.

    A debate is a theatrical performance.

    It's American Idol in the political spectrum.

    Read ONLINE reviews and a thoughtful perspective becomes very apparent.

  23. Harry Reid's political war is lost!

  24. Senator Reid stayed calm despite Angle's smug, self-satisfied, dishonest attacks on him. It's too bad that the American people want entertainment, not substance. Reid offered plenty of substance, while Angle tried to provide the entertainment because she has no substance.

    Let's keep our eye on the ball. Since winning the Republican nomination, Angle has pretended to moderate her way-out-there agenda: eliminating Social Security; using Yucca for the country's nuclear waste; letting insurance companies off the hook when it comes to responsibility for paying claims.

    It's only because the media are tiptoeing around the elephant in the living room that America is declining. "Smaller government" and "less regulation" are code words for letting profit-driven corporations exploit the American people. ONE FUNCTION OF GOVERNMENT IS TO LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD BETWEEN THE RICH/POWERFUL AND THE REST OF US. Of course the energy, financial, and insurance industries are contributing heavily to get Republicans back in power. Guess why?

  25. After the ads Reid has been running against Angle, his indignation at her
    asking about his wealth was priceless.
    The bottom line in this race is that
    Sharron Angle will have no power to do
    us harm while we know Reid does.
    Unless Obama's agenda is radically
    altered, jobs and the economy will
    continue to suffer. Government has
    resorted to printing money again after
    having spent $5-7 trillion in 2 years.
    As much as Paul Krugman and his
    clueless followers might protest, jobs
    come from private industry NOT government larggese. Obamacare, financial reform and stimulus have all
    fallen shamefully short of their intended
    purposes. Surgical editing of Obama's agenda is mandatory for growth.

  26. If you pundits believe Sharron Angle won because she didn't make a complete ass of herself, you are possibly right. If you think she won because she made more sense than Harry Reid, you are wrong. My husband and I thought that Senator Reid had far more substance than Ms. Angle did. Ms. Angle didn't explain what she would do for Nevada, and she didn't answer all of the questions; so, on a technical basis she lost. Senator Reid made points on what he has done for Nevada and the country. He spoke many times from deep acquaintance with the facts (and copious notes to keep the facts straight). Were they nervous? Yes, both were. They were hit with some very hard questions right from the start -- our compliments to the moderator. It is easy to criticize what someone else has done. It is much harder to give specifics of what you would do instead. Ms. Angle had very few specifics, just a bunch of ramblings on things we don't want her doing. It is the undecided voters that they had to sway, and if I was undecided this debate would probably have convinced me that the majority leader's seniority can do much more for our state than having two ineffective junior senators.

    Barbara Gramenos and Stuart Webster, Las Vegas