LAS VEGAS – In a crackling campaign debate, Republican challenger Sharron Angle attacked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday night as a career politician who lives in a Washington condominium and has voted to raise taxes 300 times. The four-term veteran called his party-backed rival extreme and accused her of distorting his record.
"I have never voted for tax breaks for people who are here illegally," he said, rebutting one of the allegations Angle has made in their close, caustic and costly campaign for the Senate.
Angle played the aggressor from the opening moments of the hour-long debate, an event that produced a stream of disagreements on the economy, health care, immigration and more.
Reid took aim at Angle's statement that it's not the job of a senator to create jobs. "What she's talking about is extreme," he said.
"Harry Reid, it's not your job to create jobs," she replied sharply. "It's your job to create policy" that leads to the creation of jobs."
With their debate, Reid and his challenger shared a local stage and a national spotlight, the only joint appearance of a campaign pitting the embodiment of the Democratic establishment against a challenger who was little known outside Nevada before winning the nomination in an upset.
For Angle, a 61-year-old former state lawmaker, the encounter was a chance to counter Reid's months-long attack on her as an extremist who is bent on destroying Social Security and other government programs.
For Reid, 70 and seeking a fifth Senate term, it marked an opportunity to persuade skeptical constituents that he deserves re-election at a time when unemployment in Nevada, at 14.4 percent, is the highest in the country.
The debate unfolded at a particularly critical moment in their race, with early voting set to begin over the weekend and polls showing an extremely tight contest.
Both candidates unveiled new television attack ads in the hours leading up to the debate.
Previewing her attack in the debate's opening moments, Angle's commercial Reid, saying he has voted to raise taxes more than 300 times.
Reid's ad called Angle a "wild" legislator who would force pregnant rape victims to give birth and dismantle Social Security.
Former President Bill Clinton campaigned with Reid earlier in the week and urged voters not to take their anger over the economy out on the four-term senator.
But Angle jolted Democrats in the state and in Washington when her campaign announced it had raised $14 million in the three months ending Sept. 30, a staggering sum that reflects her rise to prominence as the Republican challenger to the Senate's top Democrat.
Democrats responded by noting that Angle had not disclosed how much of the money she had remaining in her campaign treasury, suggesting she had already spent most of what she reported raising. But at the same time, Reid rushed out a fundraising appeal that said Angle's surge in donations meant she might be able to swamp him on television in the campaign's final days.
The antagonism between the two sides has also spilled over into the streets.
Police said they had issued summonses to two men after an Angle supporter dressed in a sheep costume taunted one of Reid's backers during Clinton's appearance.