US senate leader tested in debate

Harry Reid, top-ranking Democratic senator in the US, hopes to defend seat against Tea Party favourite Sharron Angle.

    Polls indicate that the race between Reid and Angle is the closest in the US midterm election. [AFP]

    Following the only scheduled debate between two candidates in a race many consider to be a bellwether for the United States' upcoming midterm elections, neither Democratic leader Harry Reid nor Tea Party favourite Sharron Angle seemed to have scored a decisive blow.

    During the roughly hour-long contest in Las Vegas, Nevada, Angle, a Republican former state assemblywoman running to unseat longtime incumbent Reid, sought to paint her opponent as a stereotypically tax-raising liberal and career politician out of touch with the world outside Washington, D.C.

    "I'm not a career politician. I'm a mother and a grandmother," she said.

    Reid, who has been a US senator since 1987 and the leader of the majority Democrats since 2007, avoided any major gaffes and emphasised job creation, but came off stiffer than the upbeat Angle.

    "I am a fighter. I will continue to fight for what I believe is best for the American people," he said during his closing statement after struggling to find his notes, according the Los Angeles Times' liveblog of the debate.

    The race between Reid and Angle is the closest in the nation - Reid has a less-than-one-per cent lead, according to the website Real Clear Politics - and political observers say it reflects the overarching theme of the upcoming November congressional elections in the United States: embattled Democrats trying to avoid a Republican victory fuelled by insurgent Tea Party enthusiasm.

    A good yawner for Angle

    Political writers expressed their boredom with the debate in real time on Twitter. John Dickerson, a contributor to the Slate website and CBS News, wrote: "They pump oxygen into the Las Vegas casinos but clearly not the debate room."

    Paul Brandus, who writes the well-followed West Wing Report from the White House, wrote that the debate was "so bad, it's good".

    But Jon Ralston, an influential Nevada political journalist, gave the victory to the mistake-prone Angle for doing "what she needed to do, looked credible, delivered message".

    Angle had previously been quoted as saying she wanted to "privatise" Social Security, a retirement security net that has been administered by the government since its creation in the 1930s as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.

    During Thursday night's debate, she changed course, saying she wanted to "personalise" it by giving Americans private savings accounts of their own.

    Reid's best friend

    Republican operatives in Washington "privately joke that if they could just send Angle on a vacation to a faraway island until Election Day, Angle would be the next senator from Nevada," the Politico's David Catanese wrote before the debate.

    To be sure, Angle has not conducted a well-tailored campaign by national standards, maintaining a Sarah Palin-like avoidance of major media outlets. She has said she would counsel a victim of rape and incest who is considering an abortion to make "what was really a lemon situation into lemonade"; she accused the Obama administration of "overreacting" to the Gulf oil spill; and she threatened to sue Reid's campaign for posting an archived version of her campaign website after posting a new one that edited out some of her more conservative positions.

    But Angle has also raised $14m since July, an amount nearly three times as large as any other high-profile Republican candidate. And Nevada voters do not view Reid with any great affection: Under his watch, the state now leads the nation with 14.4 per cent of its residents unemployed.

    "She's running the worst campaign in the country, and she could still win," James Carville, a longtime Democratic strategist and former adviser to Bill Clinton, told Politico.

    Republicans are on course to take other races throughout the country. Real Clear Politics, which averages multiple polls, shows Republicans leading in enough races to gain seven seats in the senate, leaving Democrats with a 52-48 majority. In the House of Representatives, Republicans look set to win 211 seats to Democrats' 185, with 39 still considered toss-ups.

    As may be the case elsewhere in the United States, dissatisfaction and even anger with incumbents in an era of major healthcare and financial reform may determine the outcome of congressional races.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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