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Reid, Angle trade shots over jobs, taxes in Nevada debate

By Kevin Bohn, CNN Senior Producer
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Reid, Angle spar over size of government
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a bitter race with Sharron Angle to hold Nevada seat
  • Candidates have sharp exchanges over tax cuts, privatization, Social Security
  • Angle says that the Bush "tax cuts need to be made permanent"
  • Reid: "These ideas of my opponent are really extreme"

Las Vegas, Nevada (CNN) -- Both sides landed some punches, but there didn't seem to be a knockout in the high-stakes debate Thursday night between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sharron Angle.

In one of most intense Senate contests nationwide, the two candidates sparred over everything from whose role it is to create jobs to illegal immigration to possible privatization of the Department of Veterans Affairs to past voting records during an intense 60-minute debate in Las Vegas.

Reid, a four-term Democratic senator, is locked in a a bitter fight with GOP opponent Angle to hang onto his seat in Nevada. Polls show the race as neck and neck, with the election less than three weeks away.

The sharpest exchange between the two came during a question about whether the Bush tax cuts should be extended for everyone, which Angle supports but which Reid does not.

Video: Angle, Reid in tight race
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"The tax cuts need to be made permanent," Angle told Reid. "And with voting for over 300 tax increases, senator, we can't trust you with taxes. Not only that, you came from Searchlight [Reid's hometown] to the Senate with very little. Now you're one of the richest men in the U.S. Senate. Now on behalf of Nevada taxpayers, I would like to know, we would like to know, how did you become so wealthy on a government payroll?" she asked.

Reid shot back, "That's really kind of a low blow. I think most everyone knows, I was a very successful lawyer. I did a very good job of investing. I have been on a very fixed income since I came to Washington. I've lived off of 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 her suggestion that I made money being a senator is simply false, and I'm really disappointed that she would suggest that. I will further say, if she wants tax cuts made permanent for everybody, we have a deficit problem to worry about also -- $4 trillion it would cost to have these tax cuts extended in the future. That's quite a load, $4 trillion," he said.

The two went back and forth several times over Social Security and some of Angle's past statements supporting privatization, which Reid called "extreme." That has been a consistent theme of attack by Reid and his campaign.

"Social Security is a promise we have to keep. It takes care of seniors in their golden years. That's why I worked so hard to protect Social Security," Reid said.

"Man up, Harry Reid. You need to understand we have a problem with Social Security," Angle told him, saying now that she has more information she has changed her mind on privatization. She said the government should offer private retirement accounts as are offered to federal employees.

Angle argued that because the program is running out of money, changes need to be made, and she accused Reid of earlier supporting taking money out of it to help deal with the deficit.

Reid said, "These ideas of my opponent are really extreme. I said, [the] CBO [Congressional Budget Office] and actuarials said there is plenty of money in that trust fund account. During the Clinton years, we didn't use that money to offset the deficit. We were strengthening Social Security by not using it to offset the deficit. Her facts are absolutely wrong."

Angle said, "We are in the red now. If we don't do something to fix this, by 2037 anyone by 40 years of age will not be receiving benefits from the money they paid from paycheck after paycheck."

Displaying their divergent views over regulation, the two candidates disagreed over whether insurance companies should be mandated to offer such items as mammograms. As a state assemblywoman, Angle did not support a bill requiring companies to offer such coverage.

"What we have is a choice between free market and Americanism. ... America is about choices," she said, arguing it should be an issue left up to the private sector.

"Let the people decide where they want to buy their insurance," she said.

Reid countered, "Insurance companies don't do it out of the goodness of their hearts. We need them to be forced to do mammograms."

Hours after the debate, the Reid campaign came out with an ad attacking Angle over this position as the two camps battle for independent voters.

Reid was put on the defensive about the state's dire economy and why the Obama administration and Congress didn't first tackle unemployment and mortgage problems before health care. Nevada leads the nation in unemployment at 14.4 percent as well as in foreclosures.

Reid pointed to a mortgage fraud bill passed last year and said the health care reform not only improved lives but created jobs.

Angle was pushed on her earlier statement that it was not a senator's job to create jobs, which Reid has attacked. She said it was a senator's job to help create an atmosphere where the private sector has what it needs to hire.

During the debate -- broadcast statewide -- neither candidate seemed to commit any major gaffe, which they have been known to do in the past. At times both seemed to struggle to answer questions clearly.

The debate came at a key time in the campaign, with early voting set to start Saturday. In 2008, 58 percent of those who voted did so early. Both campaigns don't expect the number to be that high, but it could be 40 percent or so.

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