Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., went face-to-face tonight with his Republican opponent Sharron Angle in a debate focused on a wide variety of issues, including the economy, health care and "don't ask don't tell."
Angle attacked Reid for his voting record, while the Democratic senator attempted to paint his challenger as "extreme," saying her views would destroy Social Security and health care.
For both Angle and Reid, the debate was a test of whether they could go beyond attacks and reinforce their message on issues pertinent to voters.
"I think the senator's challenge is what his challenge has been since he came to public office," said Democratic consultant Billy Vassiliadis. "He doesn't speak in 60-second sound bites. He wants to share information and a lot of details. ... I think the challenge for him is to hone in on himself and focus on himself."
In an interview with ABC News' Jonathan Karl earlier today, Reid said more needs to be done to tackle unemployment, but defended his own record in the Senate.
"We have worked really really hard, but it was such a deep hole," Reid said. "And I wish we could've done more, and I look back, I realize how much more we have to do."
Angle challenge was also to focus the debate on the issues rather than herself. The Republican candidate has frequently found herself at the center of controversy about her past statements, but experts say the key in the upcoming weeks will be to talk about the economy and build on the national discontent against President Obama and a Democratically controlled Congress.
Reid and Angle are in a tight race that experts say will eventually boil down to how many Nevadans turn out at the polls.
Angle has the money advantage. She raised $14.3 million in the third quarter alone, an unprecedented number for any Senate candidate.
But Reid has the Democratic registration advantage and a bigger "Get Out The Vote" campaign effort.
"It's really difficult to get a handle on what's going on out there and it's going to depend almost entirely on the turnout," said Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston. "If the Democrats can turn out a reasonable number of voters, Reid has a chance. But if, in the end, he's so swamped by the enthusiasm among Republican voters, he's going to lose."
Reid's campaign has mostly focused on attacking what it characterizes as Angle's radical views, unearthing old sound bites from the conservative candidate saying she's not in the business of job creation and calling for "Second Amendment remedies."
"She's certainly extreme. Any one that wants to talk about Medicare being unconstitutional. ... Any one that wants to talk about abolishing, phasing out, killing Social Security is a little extreme," Reid told ABC News today. "The one thing I think is interesting that she never talks about is the fact that she complains about the health insurance reform we did, but she never mentions that she is a person who receives through her husband a federal pension."
More recently, Reid's campaign has attempted to turn the attention toward Reid himself, portraying the senator as an experienced lawmaker who will bring back money to the state for economic projects.