LOS ANGELES – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seized Tuesday on the devastating Gulf oil spill in a TV ad to depict Republican Sharron Angle as an extremist who would gut federal environmental protections.
Last month, Angle backtracked after referring to a $20 billion victims' compensation fund for the Gulf oil spill as a "slush fund." Reid's new ad faults her for denouncing the fund, as well as saying in interviews she would eliminate federal environmental and energy agencies.
"Just too extreme," a narrator says in the ad.
In a statement, Angle's campaign responded that Reid is "spending millions on desperate attacks trying to distract from how his economic record has destroyed the Nevada economy."
Her campaign said the Obama Administration failed to properly oversee BP and "the administration and BP need to be held fully accountable for the mistakes they made."
Angle told a Las Vegas radio station last month that President Barack Obama strong-armed BP executives to set up the fund after the April 20 oil rig explosion that sent gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. The worst oil spill in the nation's history has affected all five Gulf Coast states and scores of businesses, such as fishing and tourism.
Appearing on KXNT, she agreed with a caller who said Obama forced BP executives to establish the fund. "Government shouldn't be doing that to a private company and I think you named it clearly, it's a slush fund," Angle said.
A day later, she issued a statement saying she was wrong. "My position is that the creation of this fund to compensate victims was an important first step — BP caused this disaster and they should pay for it," she said.
Obama later mocked her statement at a rally for Reid in Las Vegas, saying "I'm sure she meant 'slush fund' in the nicest possible way," without mentioning Angle by name.
Recent polls show the race is a dead heat.
Reid has been trying to frame Angle as a fringe conservative who would dismantle Social Security, Medicare and several federal agencies, while Angle has been blaming Reid for the state's ailing economy and accuses him of being out of touch with problems at home. The state leads the nation in joblessness, foreclosures and bankruptcies.
On Tuesday, Angle enlisted another seasoned political operative to help steady a campaign that has been slowed by growing pains and missteps, including the BP remarks. Jarrod Agen, a veteran of Rudy Giuliani's 2008 presidential campaign, was appointed communications director, one of several recent hires aimed at honing Angle's message and keeping pace with a barrage of negative ads from Reid and his Democratic allies.
Angle was a come-from-behind winner in the June 8 primary, and the former Reno legislator was slow to expand from a mom-and-pop operation to a multimillion-dollar campaign capable of going punch-for-punch with Reid, who intends to raise $25 million for the contest.
She surprised Democrats by raising more money than Reid between April and June, though Reid has more money in the bank, $9 million to her $1.8 million.
Since winning the primary, Angle has granted most of her interviews to conservative media outlets. She says her public schedule is being driven by the need to raise money and she gets the best return for her time on conservative programs, which drive up donations.
"The whole point of an interview is to ... earn something with it and I'm not going to earn anything from people who are there to badger me and use my words to batter me with," she told Christian Broadcasting Network last month.
On Monday she told Fox News, "We needed to have the press be our friend. ... We wanted them to ask the questions we want to answer, so that they report the news the way we want it to be reported."