Nevada Republican Sharron Angle told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) to "man up" and accused him of supporting policies that are "just nuts" in a debate where the Democrat labeled her as "really extreme."
The highly anticipated first meeting of the candidates focused on issues such as healthcare, Social Security and immigration reform, as well as veterans' benefits and the state of the economy. Reid delivered an even performance, while Angle struggled at times with policy questions.
Polls show this race is dead even. And Reid's financial advantage is likely gone, as Angle announced this week she raised some $14 million in the last quarter.
In an opening question about immigration reform, Angle criticized Reid and President Obama for allowing 11 foreign governments to submit friend-of-the-court briefs in the Justice Department's lawsuit against Arizona for its controversial anti-illegal immgration law.
"Sen. Reid, to allow 11 foreign countries to dictate our immigration law, that's just nuts," Angle said.
Reid didn't respond directly, but said he was working toward "comprehensive immigration reform."
"We have to do something to solve the issue," he said.
The debate turned to healthcare reform.
Asked by host Mitch Fox, of Las Vegas PBS, whether insurance companies should be mandated to cover certain procedures, Angle said no.
"We need to get the government out of the process so that we can take off those mandated coverages," she said.
Reid seized on Angle's remarks.
"My opponent doesn't like these insurance companies to have to do anything," he said. "She is against mammograms and colonoscopies and, as we've heard lately, [she's against] insurance companies [covering] kids that have autism. That's really extreme."
Angle defended her votes in the State Legislature against coverage mandates.
"America is a country of choices, not forcing people to buy things they don't need," she said. "What we want is a basic policy where we can add the coverages that we need.
"What we have here is a choice between the free market and Americanism," she said. "The free market will weed out those companies that don't offer as many choices and don't have a cost-effective system."
In one of the most aggressive exchanges in the debate, Angle accused Reid of diverting money out of the Social Security trust fund to pay for general government expenditures.
"Man up, Harry Reid. You need to understand that we have a problem with Social Security," she said. "That problem was created because of government taking that money out of the Social Security trust fund."
Angle called for the creation of "personalized" retirement accounts, which she characterized as a mixed private-and-public retirement system.
"These ideas of my opponent are really extreme," Reid shot back. "Her facts are absolutely wrong."
Angle denied she wanted to privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"My father is a veteran of World War II and the Korean War; he has an injury related to that. He's 88 years old. He has Social Security, Medicare and the VA and yet he pays $800 a month in perscription drugs. What I said was, we could do better."
Reid offered to help her father.
"I would suggest her dad come to one of my offices, [and let us do] some case work on that. Certainly, he shouldn't be doing that," he said.