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Sharron Angle and Harry Reid to Face Off in First and Only Senate Debate

A Harry Reid supporter holds up campaign signs outside Faith Lutheran High School before attending a candidate forum between Reid and challenger Sharron Angle at the school Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010, in Las Vegas. AP/Julie Jacobson

Nevada Senate candidates Harry Reid and Sharron Angle will face off in Las Vegas tonight, in what will be the first and only debate in one of the campaign season's most contentious electoral contests.

The two candidates are currently locked in a dead heat, according to a recent Rasmussen poll, which puts Angle ahead by one point at 49 percent to 48 percent. The two candidates have traded negligible leads in the past seven consecutive Rasmussen polls: Angle and Reid have each held the "edge" in three of those polls, and in one the two tied at 48 percent. Neither candidate has surpassed the 50 percent mark or held a lead outside the margin of sampling error.

CBS currently rates the contest a toss up.

Tonight is seen as a potentially pivotal opportunity for both candidates to zero in on economic policy issues, reinforce their commitment to the Nevada electorate, and - notably - combat a cycle of non-stop, highly negative and often personal attack ads that have questioned both candidates' political backgrounds and ethical credibility.

Reid has hammered home the idea that Angle, who has said she wants to eliminate the Department of Education and phase out Social Security, is "wild" and "too extreme for any rational person on the planet."

Angle, for her part, has repeatedly painted the 24-year incumbent as an establishment candidate with low-grade morals: When asked by a New York Times reporter about Reid's campaign, Angle said, "The best that I could give you is that the message has changed from hope and change to fear and smear."

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Both candidates have gaffe-prone histories: Reid was recently caught calling his colleague, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the "hottest" senator, and has in the past made cringe-worthy statements related to President Obama's race. Angle, in turn, has slyly referred to the possibility that voters could take to "Second Amendment remedies" if Reid were to be re-elected, and has cited a "militant terrorist situation" in some American cities.

The race has become a disproportionately nationalized affair, and both candidates have drummed up significant economic and political support from their party establishments. Former President Bill Clinton is one of several prominent Democrats who have been spotted stumping for Reid in Nevada, and Angle recently reported a stunning $14 million third-quarter fundraising results.

Nevada tops the national standing in both joblessness and foreclosure rates: Unemployment in the state is 14.4 percent (almost 5 points up from the national average of 9.6 percent) and 13,000 homeowners received foreclosure notices in August alone, according to the Boston Globe.

More than 70 journalists are expected at the debate, which will air tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on PBS. The moderator will be Mitch Fox, host of Nevada Week in Review.


Lucy Madison
Lucy Madison is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.
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