Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010 | 9:02 p.m.
They faced off on the street outside the debate forum, trading the same sorts of campaign barbs that their candidates in Nevada's polarizing U.S. Senate race were exchanging inside.
High schoolers yelled. Elderly women responded. A Democrat chastised a Republican for wearing too-short shorts. Unarmed National Guardsmen stood by watching closely.
The only debate between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and tea party favorite Sharron Angle drew a feisty crowd Thursday that differed on federal spending, health care and job creation as easily as the candidates inside the tightly secured Las Vegas television studio.
The raucous exchange between the throngs of voters mirrored the battle between Reid and Angle, who have attacked each other in a flurry of stinging ads in a tight race seen as a referendum on President Barack Obama's policies.
The crowds began gathering hours before the debate's 6 p.m. PDT start time. Somber police officers stalked the parking lot and two separate, unconnected pits were roped off _ one for Reid backers, one for Angle supporters. Organizers hoped the segregated spaces would help prevent problems between the two sides.
But the demonstrators would not be penned in.
The roughly 20 Angle supporters clad in campaign shirts lined a nearby sidewalk and urged passing motorists to stand up to "ObamaCare."
The 50-plus Reid backers who turned out followed, forming a massive front just steps away behind some scraps of landscaping. They alternatively chanted, "Vote for Harry, not for scary," and "We need Harry."
"You can't have him," shot back a crowd of Angle fans.
Angle's deputy campaign manager walked the area, warning supporters not to talk to curious journalists, some who flew in from Japan, Germany and France.
Unlike at previous campaign events where fighting sometimes erupted, the only blows were verbal.
An Angle fan taunted Democrats with promises of new bailouts, stimulus packages and government regulations if Reid were elected to his fifth term.
"Shut up," roared Kathy Rose, 66, a Las Vegas artist and a lifelong Democrat.
"It scares me," Rose confided to a reporter moments later, gesturing to the bickering denizens around her.
A few feet away, a Reid volunteer jumped in front of a Democrat who had joined the chanting Angle fans on the sidewalk. We want to keep everyone away from each other, the volunteer announced, steering the wayward Reid supporter back across the invisible border.
Danielle Staluppi and two teenage friends jumped up and down and cheered for Angle like they were at a high school pep rally. A Democrat cried out that Angle, a far-right conservative, would not approve of the girls' short shorts. The girls rolled their eyes.
"It just shows which party is more mature," said Staluppi, a 17-year-old high school student.