Nevada Challenger Lifted by Tea Party Ardor
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
Copyright by The Associated Press
Published: June 9, 2010
Even among the nation’s most febrile political contests, few choices are as stark as the one Nevada voters will make between a circumspect four-term senator, one of the most visible emblems of Democratic power in Washington, and a largely unknown former state lawmaker with 10 grandchildren, whose fondness for weightlifting and for her .44 Magnum won the ardor of the
Faced with the newly minted Republican Party candidate, Sharron Angle, the senator, Harry Reid, who is the majority leader, will now have to contend with a highly unpredictable electorate. It’s one that handed Barack Obama an overwhelming victory in 2008, but now burdened with a protracted recession and ever-relishing its role as national political barometer, has begun this season to demonstrate its ire against incumbents.
So far, Ms. Angle’s base of operations has been limited largely to her Reno living room, where a group called the “lick ’n’ stickers” meets each week to run her grass-roots network. And, voter registration numbers work in Mr. Reid’s favor; there are 579,750 registered Democrats in the state versus 468,245 Republicans. He is also clearly counting on the aggressive Democratic political operation that helped Mr. Obama win a state that has leaned Republican in recent years.
Further, Ms. Angle — the Tea Party-blessed candidate who bested her two better-financed competitors in Tuesday’s primary — is an untested statewide candidate whose positions as a lawmaker put her firmly to the right of most mainstream Nevada voters. The hot lights of national exposure can be a liability for new — and overly loquacious — candidates, as Rand Paul, the Republican Senate nominee from Kentucky, quickly found.
Yet Ms. Angle is well positioned to use Mr. Reid’s deep connections with the Obama machine against him in a state where the president’s popularity has faltered over the last year and where the demonstration of independence is a badge of honor.
History would suggest that a victory in November for Ms. Angle is far from impossible. She will be aided by Mr. Reid’s role as the highly visible symbol for what critics in Nevada, one of the most economically hard-hit states, see as the Obama administration’s fiscal overreach. In 1982, a four-term incumbent, Senator Howard Cannon, whose power, while less than Mr. Reid’s, was not insignificant in Washington, lost his Senate seat during a recession to Chic Hecht, a Republican who leaned hard to the right.
In this quintessential swing state, anything truly goes.
“Angle can beat Reid if she can avoid being defined as too right-wing even for conservatives, which, given her history, will be hard for her to avoid,” said Michael Green, a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada. “If even worse economic news came out, it presumably could help her.”
Largely unknown outside her legislative district in Reno until she began her Senate campaign, Ms. Angle has seen her political positions come into sharp relief in recent weeks, illuminated by her votes, the legislation she sponsored and her campaigns during her time as a state assemblywoman from 1998 to 2006.
Among her detractors and her supporters she is known as a far-right conservative and a thorn in the side of both parties, routinely voting no on almost everything that came before the Legislature. She is also a tireless campaigner. When a 2002 redistricting forced her to face off with a wildly popular Republican incumbent, Greg Brower, she went door to door nightly, won and ended his political career.
“In the building we used to have a joke called 41 to Angle,” said Sheila Leslie, a Democratic assemblywoman from Reno who served with Ms. Angle. “She took great pride in voting no for everything. We have some very conservative people in the assembly, but she was the only one voting no on a technical cleanup bill. The lobbyists didn’t talk to her, the legislators wouldn’t talk to her, because when you vote no on everything no one wants to deal with you.”
She was best known for sponsoring an unsuccessful bill that would have required the “dissemination of information concerning the scientific link between induced abortion and increased rate of breast cancer.”
Several calls to her spokesman, Jerry Stacy, were not returned, and then his cellphone voice-mail box shut down. The Web site sharronangle.com was broken much of the day.
Many of her positions — she favors the privatization of Medicare and Social Security, supported a program based on Scientology that would have offered massages to some prison inmates and did not support unemployment insurance in a state with among the highest jobless rates in the nation — have alienated Republicans as well.
“I would say there are a lot of Republicans who will find it difficult to support Sharron Angle,” said State Senator William J Raggio, a Republican who has served in the Legislature since 1972. “Abolishing the Department of Education, phasing out Social Security, those are pretty extreme positions. I think any incumbent is vulnerable, but you have to have somebody that is also acceptable if you’re going to win.”
Ms. Angle has long demonstrated larger ambitions. In 2006, she barely lost her primary race for Congress against Secretary of State Dean Heller, and in 2008 she tried to take on Mr. Raggio, one of the most powerful Republicans in the state, both times with scant money in her campaign coffers.
When the party’s greatest hope for beating Mr. Reid, Sue Lowden, imploded in a sea of gaffes and split some of the vote with a third competitor, Danny Tarkanian, Ms. Angle, 60, at last found her spot on a statewide ticket Tuesday night.
Ms. Angle’s tenacious ways may give Mr. Reid a headache.
“She just pounds the pavement,” said Don Gustavson, a fellow Republican assemblyman from Sparks. “I don’t care where she goes, she is always the last one to leave the room. She has a house full of volunteers who meet in her living room every week called the lick ’n’ stick group. She campaigns in that truck of hers and just works hard.”
Frank Bushey, pastor of Fellowship Community Church, a Southern Baptist church in Reno where Ms. Angle has been a member for several years, said, “Sharron is a great lady.”
Mr. Bushey said that his church was “mostly blue collar” and that Ms. Angle’s husband had been a deacon for many years, while she sometimes taught women’s classes.
“She is a godly woman,” he said. “She has all the attributes of Jesus.”