Republican Senate hopeful Sharron Angle of Nevada is spending some time on the east coast this week getting help from the experts as she tries to build a sophisticated enough campaign operation to take on the likes of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV.
Angle, a stranger to national politics, pulled in some much-needed campaign cash earlier in the week in New York among deep-pocketed donors, a common practice among candidates of all stripes though vilified by some, and she is meeting with GOP officials in Washington on Tuesday.
The Republican candidate stopped briefly to attend the weekly policy lunch for Republican senators in the Capitol, working the room, according to attendees, meeting and delivering comments to her would-be colleagues. Sen John Ensign, R-NV, who played host to the Tea Party favorite, said afterward, "She did a fine job. She's a fiscal conservative, like many of us. I mean, some of her issues people have attacked her for, like on Social Security, are issues I have advocated for."
Indeed, Reid has come out with a hard-hitting television ad against Angle that lifts a quote from a primary debate in which Angle said, "We need to phase Medicare and Social Security out." Angle told Fox on Monday that she wanted to "personalize" Social Security, presumably in the same manner President George W. Bush supported while he was in office, private accounts invested in the market, though Angle has offered little detail beyond that statement.
Republicans, who heard Angle's presentation were, to a letter, impressed. "She said she won, she needed money, and wanted to be a part of the team and was glad to be here today," said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-GA, who said Ensign also showed a recent Rasmussen poll showing Angle up 11 points against Reid. "She did a good job. She's an articulate lady...This was an introduction. It wasn't the kind of speech you would give to the unwashed back home, she was talking to her colleagues," Isakson recounted.
Sen John McCain, R-AZ, said he is "confident" Angle is someone who can take down Reid "because the people of Nevada are tired of him," noting the leader's sustained, low approval ratings. There is certainly no love lost between McCain, the GOP nominee for president in 2008, and Reid, who verbally bashed the Arizonan during the rough and tumble campaign.
McCain said he is happy to campaign for Angle, though her campaign has not yet asked. A confident McCain said simply, "She will."
Sen. John Thune, R-SD, who, himself, slayed a Majority Leader, said after the lunch, "I think she's very battle-tested. She seems like, to me, a tough campaigner...There's a lot of anxiety across the country about the direction in which the President and the leadership in Congress are taking the country, and she's done a good job homing in on those." Thune said he thought the issues "will resonate in the fall."
Angle, according to lunch attendees, told members how she has taken in about $500,000 on the web in the weeks since her primary victory in late May. One senior GOP aide with knowledge of Angle's campaign said that despite criticism from mainstream media outlets of the candidate's strategy of sitting down with more conservative outlets for interviews, that's a strategy that will, at first, bring in huge campaign donations, something Angle desperately needs right now.
The nominee, clad in a purple suit and pushed on by staffers, studiously avoided cameras and reporters after the lunch, as she rushed out, ducking down a back hall and hustling to an awaiting car just outside. Reporters attempted to ask questions on a number of fronts, but Angle would answer no one. Even before Angle arrived, it was clear staff did not want her to talk. Multiple reporter phone calls in search of her schedule went unanswered.
Thune said, "She's going to be in the national spotlight, for sure, and I think she will, at the appropriate time, obviously be engaged with her local press...And she will keep up the grassroots campaign that got her to where she is."
One senior Senate GOP leadership aide with extensive campaign experience said Angle "is not ready for prime time. She has a ways to go, let's face it. She needs money and some serious help, but she's got potential. There is a danger that Democrats will overreach here and totally underestimate this woman."
"Angle has said she wants to debate Harry Reid. I say, 'Do that early. Do that often, Harry', said one senior Democratic political strategist when asked what the Majority Leader should do now.
Interestingly, Angle sought out moderate freshman Sen. Scott Brown, R-MA, in the lunch who recently grabbed a long-held Democratic seat in the Bay State. Thune said, "She had a very interesting discussion with Scott." No further details were readily available.
Next stop for Angle, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, where the candidate and her campaign team will spend about three hours with seasoned NRSC operatives to strategize on finance, staffing, and other matters, as the political neophyte ramps up a national campaign against her well-funded opponent.
A spokesman for the NRSC tells Fox the plan is for Angle to first meet for about 20 minutes with Sen John Cornyn, R-TX, who's chairing the campaign office this season. Cornyn told Fox earlier, "I do think it's important that she pivot now to a different race, one where there will be almost unlimited amounts of money spent."
Indeed, Cornyn said it is likely Angle will fundraise while she is in Washington Tuesday and Wednesday.
After the NRSC meeting, Angle will sit down with two fiscal conservatives whom Angle has identified as role models in the Senate, Sens. Jim DeMint, R-SC, himself something of a kingmaker for conservatives around the country and another Tea Party favorite, and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK.
"She's done a good job on television so far...She just needs to present herself as a credible alternative (to Reid). But he's got a lot of money, and they're going to try to vilify her," DeMint said earlier Tuesday and offered this piece of advice to the nomine, "She needs to avoid some of the 'gotcha' television shows."
On Wednesday, Angle is scheduled to meet with fiscal and social conservatives at a weekly gathering hosted by anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist who's famed Wednesday meetings under the auspices of the Center Right Coalition are legendary in political circles.