Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Republican Sharron Angle met for their first and only debate of the U.S. Senate campaign. The event was held at the PBS studios in Las Vegas, organized by the Nevada Broadcasters Association, and moderated by Nevada PBS host Mitch Fox. The two candidates sparred on issues from gay rights to jobs to health care to taxes.
IMMIGRATION: Reid promoted the need for comprehensive immigration reform, touting the work he has done in the Senate. "I'm frustrated like everyone else is frustrated," he said. "But I believe we have to look at the issue and do comprehensive immigration. We cannot, cannot ignore it. And that's the reason we have to do something about the people who are here who are undocumented."
"What we have here is an illegal alien problem," jumped in Angle when it was her turn to speak. "And the solution is simple: Secure the borders, enforce the laws. I think every state should have a sheriff like Joe Arpaio, and I think we should be supporting states like Arizona."
Fox asked Angle about some of her controversial campaign ads, which have claimed that Reid supports giving undocumented immigrants tax breaks and Social Security benefits. "Most reputable fact checkers have said that's patently false," said Fox, asking, "Would you like to denounce the ad as deceptive, or give voters documented evidence about its accuracy?" "Not at all," responded Angle. "I'm glad to give voters the opportunity to see Harry Reid has voted to give Social Security to illegal aliens."
Hispanic civil rights groups have spoken out about some of Angle's ads and mailers on immigration, calling them "race-baiting at its worst." The Huffington Post has learned that the League of United Latin American Citizens, the largest and oldest Hispanic civil rights membership organization in the country, will be issuing a statement on Friday urging all Democratic and Republican candidates to "stop using ads stereotyping and denigrating Latinos and other targeted minorities for political gain." "The ads coming from certain states are offensive and there must not be any room for discrimination or stereotypes in elections," said LULAC National President Margaret Moran. "LULAC would like to have the ads taken down immediately."
HEALTH CARE: Reid defended health care reform against the moderator's question about why Democrats didn't first tackle the economic recession, stating, "We had to do health insurance reform to remain competitive in the world economy, and it creates jobs. Thousands and thousands of jobs." Angle confusingly defended the government program Medicare, but then said that the solution to health insurance is to "get the government out so we can go across state lines to choose insurance companies." "We need to get the government out of the process," she repeated. When asked whether there's anything insurance companies should be forced to cover, Angle basically said no (in far more words). Reid disagreed.
Fox then asked the candidates, "Do you think the health care reform act should include coverage for abortions?" "No," responded Angle quickly. Reid, who campaigns as a pro-life politician, refused to give a yes or no answer. "The law we passed maintained the Hyde Amendment," he said. "That would be a yes or no?" asked Fox. "Under the law that exists today, the Hyde Amendment, which has been the law in this country for 30 years, is still there."
SUPREME COURT: When asked to name a current or former Supreme Court justice they admire (and would not have confirmed), Reid cited the very conservative Antonin Scalia. "This may surprise everyone -- and I got a little criticism for doing this -- I don't agree with Scalia's opinions a lot of times, but he is a masterful masterful mind. He does good things." He also named Byron "Whizzer" White. He did not name someone he would not have confirmed. Angle named Clarence Thomas "because he understands his constitutional boundaries as a judge in the Supreme Court, and that's what we need." She said she wouldn't have confirmed Elena Kagan or Sonia Sotomayor.
EDUCATION: Angle addressed the controversy of whether she wants to eliminate the Department of Education, seeming to blame the agency for the problems in the U.S. education system. "The Department of Education has been around since the early '80s, late '70s, and since then, the quality of our education has diminished year after year after year. We would be so much better off taking our 10th Amendment rights, just the way Arizona did with illegal aliens and just the way Missouri did with Obamacare -- we need to take our 10th Amendment rights, put that education as close to the local level as possible where parents and teachers make the policies."
SOCIAL SECURITY: Reid defended the solvency of Social Security, saying that it doesn't need to be privatized or have drastic changes. In the most memorable line of the night, Angle replied, "Man up, Harry Reid. You need to understand we have a problem with Social Security."
TAX CUTS: Angle said that the Bush tax cuts need to be made permanent. "And with voting for over 300 tax increases, senator, we can't trust you with our taxes." She then changed the subject, making it personal about Reid: "Not only that, you came from Searchlight to the Senate with very little. Now you're one of the richest men in the U.S. Senate. On behalf of Nevada taxpayers, I'd like to know -- we'd like to know -- how did you become so wealthy on a government payroll?" Reid looked unhappy with her question, saying it was a "low blow." "I think most everyone knows, I was a very successful lawyer, I did a very good job in investing, I've been on a fixed income since I went to Washington, I lived off what I made in the private sector, I put my five kids through 100 semesters of school, and I paid for every penny of it. So your suggestion that I made money being a senator is simply false."