Harry Reid, the most powerful Democrat in the United States Senate, is battling to save his career after coming off second best in a bruising televised debate with his Tea Party rival Sharron Angle, a former teacher and grandmother with no national political experience.
A slew of recent polls have shown Mrs Angle taking a narrow lead for the first time in a race that symbolises the threat posed by the upstart conservative Tea Party movement to the political establishment.
With the Republicans targeting 12 Democratic senators in the midterm elections on Nov 2, the loss of Mr Reid’s Nevada seat, which he has held for 24 years, would be a stunning reverse.
It could cost the Democrats control of the Senate and seriously hinder President Barack Obama’s chances of pursuing his agenda for the remaining two years of his term.
Mrs Angle, 61, spent months being portrayed by her opponent as an extremist, but she fought back in the debate in what was a confident display under the glare of television cameras.
So short in stature that she had to conduct the debate on a six-inch high platform, Mrs Angle nonetheless threw several hard rhetorical punches that justified the reputation of Las Vegas for box office pugilism.
She told Mr Reid, 70, to “man up” and face up to the problems in the indebted Social Security system that provides a government pension for all Americans.