Desert Firestorm: The Nevada Senate Race Heats Up
A Retooled Angle Campaign Threatens to Topple the Majority Leader
By JONATHAN KARL
MINDEN, Nev., Sept. 7, 2010
After a disastrous start as the Republican Senate nominee in Nevada, Sharron Angle has begun to turn her campaign around and is once again raising Republican hopes of defeating the Senate's most powerful Democrat, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
It's a dramatic change. For more than two months, Angle was pummeled by Reid and his allies without offering much of a response to his attacks. The most memorable images from the first weeks of the general election campaign were video clips of Angle running away from reporters trying to ask her questions while Reid relentlessly hammered her in television ads as a dangerous extremist.
Angle is still taking a pummeling from Reid, but she is finally responding. Last week, she put out her first television commercial answering Reid's attacks, and she no longer seems to shy away from answering questions -- either from voters in public forums or from reporters. Angle has become more accessible to Nevada voters and answers more questions than Reid, who does most of his campaign work through television commercials that attack Angle.
But even as she retools her campaign, Angle has not backed down from some her most controversial comments, as when she agreed with conservative talk show host Bill Manders that there are "homegrown enemies" within "the walls of the Senate and the Congress." In an interview conducted after a campaign event in Minden, Nev., ABC News asked Angle about that:
ABC News: Do we have enemies of the country inside the walls of Congress? ANGLE: Certainly people who pass these kinds of policies -- Obamacare, cap and trade, stimulus, bailout -- they're certainly not friends to the free market system. ABC News: So, what are they? ANGLE: They're not friends.
Angle also spent about an hour taking town-hall style questions from voters outside the 88 Cups Coffee Shop in Minden. Several of the voters wanted Angle to respond to what they've heard about her in Reid's campaign ads, including a recent commercial that accuses Angle of wanting to "wipe out Social Security." Like almost all of Reid's ads, it includes Angle's own words, in this case a video clip of her saying, "We need to phase Medicare and Social Security out."
Social Security, Medicare Remarks 'Out of Context'?
Angle insisted the video clip the Reid campaign used was a snippet from an interview and was taken out of context.
"What I said in that interview was that Social Security is broken and that Harry Reid, I believe, broke it," she said. "And the reason I say that is because there was $2.5 trillion in the Social Security trust fund and that money has been taken out of the trust fund, put in the general fund and used for all kinds of policies and programs."
Angle summed up her position on Social Security this way: "Keep the promise. Put the money back, but going forward do something personalized with retirement. Keep the government from raiding and pillaging our retirement one more time."
The answer seemed to satisfy this audience, although this was a friendly crowd that, like about roughly half of all voters in Nevada, is ready to vote for anybody running against Harry Reid. The latest ABC News poll out today shows that sour mood is nationwide: With just two months before the 2010 midterm elections, likely voters now favor the Republican over the Democratic candidate in their congressional district by 53-40 percent, the widest GOP margin on record in ABC News/Washington Post polls since 1981.
Judy Walsh, a Minden resident who is supporting Angle summed it up this way: "There are so many people who, though they don't know Sharron, say, 'I would vote for the devil before Harry Reid.'"
As she responded to questions, Angle took aim at Harry Reid, highlighting what she believes he has -- or has not -- done for Nevada.
"Harry Reid wants to make this election about me," Angle told voters in Minden. "This election isn't about me. It's about our economy."
And Nevada's economy is the hardest hit in the entire country. With a 14.3 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the United States, Nevada also leads the nation in home foreclosures and personal bankruptcies.
For his part, Reid said he bore no responsibility for Nevada's economic woes, which he blames on the Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress. When ABC News asked the senator if he deserved his job back, Reid fired back with an unapologetic explanation:
Reid Blames Bush Administration for Nevada's Woes
"You know that I had nothing to do with the massive foreclosures here. You know that I had nothing to do with these unemployment figures. In fact, I've worked hard to change them," Reid told ABC News. "My opponent says that it is not her job to create jobs. And I think that is really wrong. I think it is my job to ceate jobs, and I've done my best. Is there more that needs to take place? Of course, there is."
Tune in to "World News" tonight for complete coverage of the Nevada Senate race. You can also watch more of Harry Reid's interview today on ABC News "Top Line." The interview with Angle -- in which she responded for the first time to questions about some of her more controversial comments -- airs on Top Line tomorrow.