Las Vegas, Nevada (CNN) - Both Sen. Harry Reid and Sharron Angle know a lot is at stake tonight with their one and only debate. Each candidate has something to prove and also needs to try to dispel some negatives as polls show this race - one of the most hotly contested Senate races in the country - neck and neck.
So far what voters here have mostly seen is a continuous loop of attack ads both by the campaigns and by outside groups going after everything ranging from the candidates' positions on immigration to the future of Social Security and Medicare to their votes on providing Viagra or mammograms. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on ads in the Senate race, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, CNN's consultant.
With both candidates having a majority viewing them negatively, according to a just released Suffolk University poll, they will have to try to convince voters both why they are the best person for the job as well as why their opponent is not.
Both Reid and Angle have had some practice sessions to prepare for the hour-long session to be held at the Nevada PBS station. Both campaigns are engaged in the usual pre-debate spin about who may have the advantage going in and who has the tougher job in tonight's session.
The debate comes at a crucial time with early voting in the state set to begin Saturday.
With several recent incidents of supporters having tussles at events, the organizers of the debate are only allowing each campaign to have 12 representatives in the audience and have divided the parking lot outside the studio into specific areas for each camp.
About 100 members of the media will be here to chronicle the event.
Reid can be expected to continue to attack Angle's record and how he says she has flip-flopped on key issues. Hours before the debate his campaign released its latest ad going after her past statements.
"It is important for the people of Nevada to understand long-standing positions of my opponent– phasing out Social Security, killing Social Security. She believes Medicare is unconstitutional– remember it was passed in 1964," he told CNN in an interview Wednesday.
In a rare interview with the national media –also on Wednesday– Angle provided a preview of what she will probably say in the debate to that charge.
"I didn't change my position. What I have had is more information on that position. I used to think that Social Security and retirement privatization was the only way that we could have personalized accounts. But as you know, Harry Reid and many of his staff are government employees, have what we call a thrift savings plan, which is a personalized retirement account. So it occurs both in the public sector and the private sector. All I'm saying is that we need to give people the option of a personalized Social Security retirement account that they can have as a benefit and an asset to themselves," she told CNN.
For his part Reid will be on the defensive regarding the dire economic conditions in the state, which leads the nation with 14.4% unemployment. Ninety two percent of those polled in the Suffolk University Nevada survey say the recession is not over, and 61% say the stimulus bill did not bring jobs to the state.
Angle has attacked Reid hard saying in one ad: "Want to know just how out of touch Harry Reid is? Spending 787 billion on a stimulus that failed is a start."
Asked by CNN whether he has failed in his efforts to help spur job creation, Reid defended his record.
"Well, of course, the economic recovery package that brought tens of thousands of jobs to the state of Nevada. And, for example, with education alone, almost a billion dollars for education. Just in August 1 we stopped 1,400 layoffs. That was all part of what was originally in the stimulus bill," he said. "But the fact is, we avoided a worldwide depression. That's a fact. Things would have been a lot worse. Now it's difficult for somebody that is struggling to accept that. But that's the truth. And I'm going to continue my message. My most important job is to continue to try to get jobs for the people of the state of Nevada."
One political analyst says the two have thing in common. "They both have the same strategy - not to say anything stupid," David Damore of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
If Angle believes in luck she goes in to the debate with one advantage. Her staff won all four coin tosses to decide who went first in opening and closing statements (she will go second in both); which podium she wanted and who gets the first question (he does).