Before Jon Scott Ashjian stepped into the national spotlight as the first Senate candidate running under the Tea Party banner, he was just another Las Vegas business owner and family man.
But the 46-year-old recently made a splash in news reports and Internet blogs by creating a third party, the Tea Party of Nevada, a group dedicating itself to the popular conservative movement.
A flashy campaign it is not, however.
Ashjian says he's learning the ropes through this grass-roots movement, where he is his own communications director who answers the phone, relies heavily on family and friends for help and schedules his own TV and radio appearances, which are starting to pick up.
Don't call him a politician, though.
"I'm a frustrated patriot," Ashjian said. "I'm not a politician. I'm not savvy with radio and TV. But I believe I can make a change, and that's what I'm here for. I'm here to give people a third voice."
A campaign Web site is in the works, with a Facebook profile and a Twitter account -- all of the necessary social media to get his message to voters.
His traditionally conservative platform is simple:
■ Smaller government.
■ Fiscal responsibility by voting against future stimulus packages, big business bailouts and tax increases.
■ Cutting small-business taxes.
■ Investing in education.
■ Creating jobs.
So, what is this third party Tea Party of Nevada?
"We're not Republican or Democrat," Ashjian said. "We won't fold into one party or the other. We're a tax-paying party that can make a difference and a party of normal people who want change. Bigger government and higher taxes is not working. Right now we're at a real crossroads to make change, and the bottom line is there's never been so much disdain for politicians."
Ashjian, who was born in Fresno, Calif., and is the oldest of eight children, has been married to his wife, Bonnie, for 21 years. They have two sons and a daughter, ages 13-19. The oldest, Brogan, is on a Mormon mission in Calgary, Alberta, for his church, just like his dad did 30 years ago in Argentina. Sixteen-year-old Bronson is a high school wrestler, which he picked up from dad, and daughter Bostyn is a competitive dancer. Then there's Ruckus, the family's 3-year-old English bulldog.
Ashjian says he understands the problems of the middle class and relates to small-business owners struggling during difficult economic times. He runs a small asphalt company, A&A Asphalt, has dealings in real estate and works on agricultural projects in California. Ashjian was running businesses in his teens.
"The political race is for the rich," Ashjian said. "Why would (politicians) want to spend X millions of dollars on a campaign? It has to be for political gain. That disconnect is why I'm running for office."
However, the asphalt company is facing tough times.
The State Contractors Board has received five complaints that Ashjian's business owes more than $36,000 on various materials in which at least one check was written with insufficient funds. As a result, one of his contractor licenses has been suspended since Feb. 3. And according to the county recorder, Ashjian owes more than $200,000 in back taxes on his property.
Ashjian has chalked it up to a misunderstanding, but this isn't the first time his company has clashed with others over nonpayment. Court records show collections dating to 1998 for thousands of dollars, all of which have since been resolved.
"The issues with my personal business we're addressing," Ashjian said. "My accountant is coming and is addressing this. I'm not going to get into my personal business. It's my personal business.
"I've been in the business for 30 years. If they're talking about half a dozen complaints over 30 years, I don't really think that's an issue."
Until the March 24 hearing in front of the state board, Ashjian cannot bid on future work, but he is allowed to finish his current projects.
Once a longtime registered Republican who voted for Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and John McCain, Ashjian changed his voter registration to "other" the same day he filed with the secretary of state. He identifies closely with the conservative values of Reagan, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former presidential hopeful Ron Paul.
There's no denying his impact on the race. Even before Ashjian declared his candidacy on March 2, his presence significantly shifted voter polls, which showed him skimming off at least 22 percent of the conservative vote.
With Ashjian in the race, Sen. Harry Reid's chances for re-election improve greatly.
Polling results for the Las Vegas Review-Journal indicated that if the election took place last week and a Tea Party candidate were in the race, Reid would draw 36 percent of voters, while the Republican nominee would get 32 percent and the Tea Party candidate 18 percent. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Ashjian already has faced backlash from skeptics in the Tea Party movement throughout the state and elsewhere who have called his campaign a ploy by Reid to split the conservative vote.
"We understand what Harry Reid represents, and I'm the opposite," Ashjian said. "I've never met him, I've never talked to him, and I don't even know him."
Ashjian admits he has not actively participated in Tea Party movement events, such as the 9/12 Taxpayer March in Washington, D.C. But he said he feels a growing frustration among his fellow Americans about the way elected officials on both sides of the aisle are representing voters, which is why he formed the Tea Party of Nevada in January.
"I'm here to say there is a choice," Ashjian said. "If you want to stick to the status quo, pick the Republicans or Democrats, but don't complain. Nobody can do a better job than I can.
"I fully expect to win. I expect all Nevadans to get behind me and vote. I want to be clear in every word that I expect to win this race."
Contact Kristi Jourdan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.