The head of the Tea Party of Nevada on Tuesday endorsed Republican Sharron Angle and ditched his candidate for U.S. Senate, saying Scott Ashjian violated his trust by secretly taping a meeting between the candidates to discuss the third-party foe dropping out.
Dr. Sid James said he quit as chairman of the party after Ashjian leaked audio of the private meeting to the media, generating stories about Angle's concern that could cost her the race against Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic incumbent, by splintering the vote.
"I gave the Angle campaign my word that this was to be a private meeting and not tape-recorded," James said in a statement. "I feel my personal integrity and honor was violated when Scott taped what was to be a private conversation and then made it public."
James, a registered Republican, helped Ashjian set up the Tea Party of Nevada this year solely so that the Las Vegas businessman could run for the Senate. But Ashjian has been called a fake by the movement, including the Tea Party Express, which endorsed Angle and helped her win the June GOP primary against an establishment favorite. Legal attempts to remove Ashjian from the ballot have failed.
The latest poll for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and 8NewsNow showed Reid and Angle tied at 43 percent and Ashjian at 1 percent. The remainder of the respondents were split, with 8 percent undecided, 4 percent for none of the candidates and 1 percent for Independent American Party candidate Tim Fasano.
Angle agreed to the meeting Sept. 29 after James reached out to her campaign, but Ashjian refused to drop out. He told Angle she's too tied to the GOP, according to the tape leaked by Ashjian, and he's the true outsider. Angle told him that she, too, thought leaders of the GOP had "lost their principles" but that she was trying to work within the party to make change.
The meeting ended cordially, but the fallout has included questions about why Angle even agreed to talk to Ashjian despite her lawyer's worries that it was a setup and a political stunt.
"Sharron Angle has been completely honorable in this entire process," James said in his statement. "This meeting was the first time I had met Sharron Angle and I was so impressed by the character that she has displayed, I would like to publicly endorse her."
Ashjian said he leaked the tape to ensure the facts about the meeting got out to the public.
The controversy comes as Angle is in Washington to meet with some of the very leaders she criticized for not doing enough to cut taxes and U.S. spending.
A group of Republican Senate candidates including Angle gathered in Washington on Tuesday night for a $5,000 per person fundraiser at a private home, party officials confirmed. GOP Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Scott Brown of Massachusetts hosted the event.
Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John Boozman of Arkansas, Dan Coats of Indiana and Marco Rubio of Florida were at the benefit with Angle. The proceeds will go into a joint fundraising account to be divided among the candidates.
Angle and Rubio are among a half-dozen Tea Party-backed candidates vying for Senate seats. During her tape-recorded meeting, Angle offered this assessment of some of her Tea Party peers: On Delaware candidate Christine O'Donnell, Angle said, "I think she's real." On Rubio, she said, "I think that possibly Marco Rubio is real. That's a stretch for me."
Angle is set to raise more money at a luncheon today at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, where she is to meet with party strategists before heading back to Nevada.
Less than two weeks before early voting begins on Oct. 16, the ad wars continued to heat up. Believing she has found a message that is moving Nevadans into her corner, Angle unveiled another TV ad hitting Reid on illegal immigration.
And the Reid camp came out with a new commercial Tuesday attacking Angle on job outsourcing, calling her "a foreign worker's best friend."
The immigration spot is the third commercial Angle has produced since mid-September promoting the theme that Reid is an "illegal alien's best friend" at the expense of taxpayers, citing in part his effort last month as Senate majority leader to tout the DREAM Act. The legislation would put Latinos on a path to U.S. citizenship if they complete their college education or join the U.S. military.
Reid spokesman Jon Summers said that "these attacks have been proven false by multiple outlets."
In response to Reid's charge on job outsourcing, Angle has said during the campaign that the way to keep jobs in the United States is to cut the corporate income tax rate, which can be as high as 35 percent.
Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault contributed to this report. Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919.