Published June 09, 2010
Sharron Angle's political support was so low two months ago she was practically in the "other" category. Now she's the Nevada Republican Party's nominee to take on U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the fall.
Something happened in the final weeks of the race that lit a fire under the base and propelled Angle over a more established front-runner, former state GOP Chairwoman Sue Lowden. Now the question is whether Angle can light a fire under voters in the general election.
Playing no small part in Angle's rise were the late-in-the-race endorsements and advertising from the Tea Party Express, the conservative Club for Growth and other groups. How Angle holds up against Reid in the fall will stand as a test of the Tea Party movement's success.
Is it a boon for the GOP or sabotage?
Democrats in Washington and Nevada were rejoicing at Angle's victory on Wednesday morning, portraying her as too conservative for the state and, in memo after memo, pouncing on her record and policy positions after the results came in. The early warnings prove Angle will be a prime target for Democratic leaders as they try to protect key incumbents from an anti-establishment backlash.
"Sharron Angle simply cannot win a statewide election against Harry Reid," Reid campaign manager Brandon Hall said in one memo. Democrats toggled between using words like "dangerous" and "wacky" and "extreme" to describe her.
"A funny thing happens on the way to the ballot box. People actually get to vote, so what the establishment -- whoever the heck that is -- wants doesn't really matter when people go to the booth," he told Fox News. "I'm quite frankly very happy that the people chose who they chose last evening for us."
But Democrats have a host of unusual positions from Angle to pick apart in the months ahead, and Republicans face the challenge of making the case that those positions aren't as "wacky" as they sound.
Angle, a self-described constitutional conservative, generally advocates a stripped-down approach to the federal government and its entitlement programs.
On the more unusual end, while in the state Legislature she pushed for a drug treatment program for inmates based on Scientology that reportedly involved "sauna and massage" treatments.
Her past comments have also drawn attention. During a September 2009 meeting she said that her family did jobs "that Americans don't do," like cleaning bathrooms and doing laundry, when she was growing up.
While some of her positions are not unheard of among conservative Republican candidates -- abolishing the Education Department was part of Ronald Reagan's campaign platform -- comments like the one about the hospitality industry could be used against her, considering the hospitality sector is a big part of the state's economy.
Angle made no apologies during her victory speech Tuesday night. She described her campaign message as one of fiscal responsibility and warned Reid that voters would "dump" him in November.
"Remember, they said that Reagan was too conservative to win. There's no such thing," she said.
Democrats appeared to exaggerate a few points in Angle's record. One piece of campaign literature from the Nevada State Democratic Party said "her desire to legislate morality has gone so far, she said alcohol should be illegal."
That claim comes from a 2006 interview in which Angle talked about her concerns with legalizing marijuana and said, "I feel the same about legalizing alcohol."
Her campaign later clarified that Angle has no interest in bringing back Prohibition.
Regardless of her positions -- or because of them -- Angle not only surged in the GOP primary but was holding her own in polls against Reid. A Mason-Dixon poll released shortly before the election showed her pulling 44 percent to Reid's 41 percent in a November matchup.
Angle didn't start leading consistently in the primary polls until the beginning of June, about a week before the election.
Reid congratulated Angle on the Senate floor Wednesday, saying little about the nature of the race ahead.
"She actually came from nowhere in a 13-person field in a Republican primary to win this election. So I extended my appreciation to her in that regard," Reid said.