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Analysis: Who won Reid-Angle debate?

By Jessica Yellin, CNN National Political Correspondent
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Reid, Angle spar over size of government
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Republican Sharron Angle faced off against Sen. Harry Reid Thursday night in Las Vegas
  • Yellin: The debate was "probably the dullest thing that happened in Las Vegas"
  • "With no knockout blows and no fumbles, call it a draw," Yellin says

Las Vegas, Nevada (CNN) -- The debate in the nation's marquee Senate race was probably the dullest thing that happened in Las Vegas on Thursday night.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is known to get awkward and wonky, was both at times. He seemed so intent on coming off as likable that he missed openings to challenge his rival, Republican insurgent Sharron Angle.

Angle, who astonished Democrats by raising $14 million in the past quarter, was the aggressor in the debate yet unsteady at that. She often seemed confused on the facts and lost in her own answers.

For all that strangeness, the candidates showcased starkly different visions of the proper role of government. Nevada has the nation's highest unemployment rate. And Reid, who championed the stimulus and recent jobs bill, argued that government should be an engine of job growth, saying, "I believe my number one job is to create jobs as a U.S. senator."

Angle maintained that job creation should be left to the private sector, replying, "Harry Reid, it's not your job to create jobs; it's your job to create confidence to get the private sector to create jobs."

Video: Sharron Angle vs. Harry Reid
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Angle defended her view that health insurance companies should not be required to cover mammograms or autism care, arguing, "What makes better insurance plans is competition, so they will cover the things we need to cover," and "the free market will weed out those companies that do not offer as many choices and do not have a cost-effective system."

Reid rebutted that government must set baselines since "insurance companies don't do things out of the goodness of their hearts."

The fiercest exchange was over Social Security, a topic that led Angle to challenge Reid's manhood.

Reid accused his opponent of trying scare voters, saying, "Don't frighten people about Social Security," and insisting that "the money is there, and it's taking care of our folks and will for the next 35 years."

Angle shot back: "Man up, Harry Reid. You need to understand we have a problem with Social Security. That problem was created because the government took money from the Social Security trust fund."

A few big-name political observers called the match for Angle, insisting that she achieved her goal by appearing "credible." In other words, she didn't freeze up the way Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer did in a recent debate or forget why she's on stage like the famous Adm. James Stockdale debate debacle during the 1992 presidential race.

Top Republicans argued that Angle just needed to give Harry Reid-haters enough confidence that she is competent, and voters will support her. On the other hand, Reid's team was hoping for no major gaffes, and he met that mark.

A low bar on both sides.

Given the near-saturation coverage this race is getting on local TV -- which in Vegas is like one continuous political ad, interrupted by occasional programming -- it's hard to believe that Nevada voters have an open mind about either candidate at this point. So it's doubtful the debate changed many minds.

With no knockout blows and no fumbles, call it a draw. Now, it's up to their respective campaign teams to close the deal.

On her side: a groundswell of enthusiasm to take down the Senate's top Democrat. On his: a formidable get-out-the-vote operation.

Early voting begins Saturday.

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