In one of the nation's most hotly contested races, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dodged attacks from his Republican opponent, Sharron Angle, Thursday night while attempting to explain his own voting record.
Angle fired several shots at Reid, blaming him for creating "Band-Aid applications" for health care, thwarting the private sector and, in perhaps the most contentious issue of the night, suggesting Reid became rich on the government's payroll.
The four-term senator denounced the charge as a "low blow."
"Her suggestion that I made money being a senator is really false, and I'm really disappointed she would suggest that," Reid said.
The debate, the only one between the two Senate candidates, focused on wide-ranging issues, including the economy, jobs, health care, abortion and the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military.
The Democratic senator spent much of the debate on the defensive, defending the health care bill, his record on Social Security and immigration, as he attempted to explain his voting record to a public wary of President Obama and the Democrats' agenda. Reid used the word "extreme" at least three times to describe Angle and her views, and derided her for mischaracterizing his record.
Angle, meanwhile, drew the contrast from the beginning between her and Reid by portraying the longtime senator as a career politician with an expensive residence in Washington.
Angle is no stranger to controversy. She's taken heat for saying that her job as a senator isn't to create jobs, suggesting that the Department of Education should be abolished and that Social Security should be privatized.
On Thursday, the Tea Party-backed candidate stood firmly by her views. She refused to apologize for what Reid said was a mischaracterization of his views on job creation and providing tax breaks to illegal immigrants, or her idea that Social Security should be privatized.
Instead, she placed the blame squarely on Reid for helping pass the health care bill and supporting Obama's policies.
"Man up, Harry Reid," Angle quipped. "You need to understand we have a problem with Social Security."
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. Both campaigns thus far have relied on negative ads to discredit the other.
"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."
Reid and Angle are in a tight race that experts say eventually will 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 amount 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."
Harry Reid in a Neck-and-Neck Race with Sharron Angle
Reid's campaign mostly has 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," Reid told ABC News today. "Anyone that wants to talk about Medicare being unconstitutional ... anyone that wants to talk about abolishing, phasing out, killing Social Security is a little extreme.
"The one thing I think is interesting that she never talks about," Reid said, "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.
Angle, on the other hand, is riding the anti-incumbent wave. She has blasted Reid on taxes, spending, supporting President Obama's stimulus plan and even using taxpayer money to pay for Viagra for child molesters and sex offenders.
Angle, however, has been dogged with controversy since even before she won the primary. Most recently, she was called out for suggesting that sharia law is taking hold in Dearborn, Mich., and Frankford, Texas. Dearborn is governed by the U.S. Constitution and the town of Frankford was annexed by Dallas in 1975.
Republicans cite Angle's whopping fundraising figures as a sign of her popularity and say the Tea Party-favored candidate shouldn't be discounted.
Angle, buoyed by national Tea Parties, beat former state Republican chairwoman Sue Lowden in the primaries in an upset that stunned the Republican establishment.
But Republicans threw their full support behind her in what they see as a chance to topple the Senate majority leader in a replay of 2004, when Republicans regained majority in the Senate by defeating Tom Daschle.
Danny Tarkanian, who also ran against Angle in the Republican primary but now supports the GOP candidate, said Angle's challenge will be to focus on issues where she can hit Reid's record.
"The race is about Harry Reid and the economy," Tarkanian said. "Sharron's objective has got to be to keep the focus away from her and on Reid and the economy. And if she does, she'll be in great shape."
Reid has stepped up campaign events in recent weeks, bringing Democratic bigwigs like former President Bill Clinton and President Obama to Nevada.
Both are needed to energize Democrats. In a climate where enthusiasm within the party is relatively low, that push will help.
"They're coming out for one reason and one reason only, and that's to energize the base turnout, which Reid needs," Ralston said. "He needs to bridge that enthusiasm gap. He needs veteran Democratic voters to turn out, that there's a perceived and a real lack of enthusiasm for the Democratic ticket. So yes, he needs that help."
Clinton rallied the crowd for Reid Tuesday night, and Obama will make his third trip to Nevada next week to attend a rally for the majority leader.