Not Happy Sharron

Nevada journalist scorned by Angle on debate

The tussle between Sharron “earned media” Angle and the press continues.

At 3.19 p.m. yesterday, Nevada journalist Jon Ralston received a press release in his inbox from Kelly Steele, the communications director for Senator Harry Reid’s reelection campaign. The subject read, “BREAKING NEWS: Reid Campaign Accepts 3rd Non-Partisan Statewide Debate, Urges Angle to Commit,” and the e-mail detailed Reid’s decision to debate his opponent on October 21 in Reno—“Sharron Angle’s hometown.” Ralston would be hosting.

For Ralston, host of Nevada TV program Face to Face, it was a coup. On June 29, Angle had appeared on his program and challenged Reid to a debate with Ralston as moderator. “What I would like to see is Harry Reid come into this studio with you and I and have a true debate,” Angle said. The gauntlet clearly thrown, Ralston “pushed and pushed and pushed” to get Reid to commit, but the senator demurred. “Neither of these candidates, I think, is really thrilled about debating for a variety of reasons,” says Ralston upon reflection. “Not the least of which is that each of them is prone to saying things that they shouldn’t say in public.”

Nevertheless, Reid did eventually agree—thus the release—and Angle’s deputy campaign manager came on board too, telling Ralston to announce the debate yesterday. Ralston excitedly Tweeted minutes after Reid’s office released its press release: “So you thought there would only be one #nvsen debate? Not so: Reid and Angle have now agreed to debate on F2F on Oct. 21 in Reno.” Hashtag: “#gameon.”

Within an hour, though, it was game off. Angle spokesperson Jerry Stacy called Ralston a little after 4 p.m. to back out of the debate. The issue was timing and “other crazy reasons.” Ralston was gob-smacked, taking to Twitter to write, “Thought I had seen it all in #nvsen, tweeps: Just got a call from Team Angle spox. Now he says they are not agreeing to debate.” The hashtag this time, was “#shootme.”

Later, he Tweeted: “Remember ‘Scanners’ where people’s heads exploded. That’s how I feel right now. This is a Senate race, not a competition for h.s. president.”

Angle’s campaign issued a press release the same day saying the candidate had agreed to another debate at a high school. Ralston says: “She’s going to be there by herself but they called it a free-flowing debate with Reid, which was totally disingenuous. And it was no coincidence, I tell you, that it came two hours after they backed out of mine.” On Face to Face last night, Ralston briefly told viewers what had happened and added, “I’m not making this up, folks.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever been that angry in my professional life,” he says today. “It was so unprofessional and so astonishing. It made no sense that a campaign spokesperson could somehow overrule a deputy campaign manager. But it confirmed my suspicions, and I am sure those of others, that there has been some kind of tug-of-war going on inside the Angle campaign between the Nevada-based people that she’s known for a long time and the outside professional campaign people she brought in who have really changed a lot of things for the good in her campaign.”

Despite the bad blood, the invitation to debate is still open. “Our goal is to get a debate, I haven’t given up on it yet,” Ralston says. “Not just because I think it would be great for me—these two have avoided being on the same stage. October 21st, five days after early voting starts, two weeks before the election, it’s great timing.”

As for whether Angle—a candidate that has Ralston asking, “Is it possible that the Republicans nominated the only person who cannot beat Harry Reid this year?”, and who has continually managed, dodged, and evaded the press—will be affected by the debacle, Ralston is not so sure. “I don’t know how much people pay attention to the debate over the debate. But doing something in such an amateurish and unprofessional way in public raises the question of whether it contributes to a perception that she’s not ready for prime time. And I would guess the Reid campaign is preparing just such a press release.”

We will be watching his Twitter feed.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.