RENO -- Sharron Angle has few regrets and no apologies for her shattering loss last year to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid.
In fact, she said her loss to the Senate majority leader has shown her a path to victory for her House bid: the 19,677-vote win she had over Reid in the 2nd Congressional District, covering Northern and rural Nevada outside Clark County.
"They voted for me last time," Angle said Monday of the largely conservative district. "I'm their voice. I've always been their voice."
Indeed, Angle, 61, came close to winning the GOP primary for the House seat in 2006, losing by 421 votes to Dean Heller. His announcement last week that he's running for retiring U.S. Sen. John Ensign's seat opened the door for Angle to try again.
"To use the Western analogy, I'm getting back on the horse again," Angle said in an interview after a news conference to formally launch her U.S. House race, nearly 20 months before Election Day 2012.
However, the former Reno assemblywoman's string of losses -- the House primary in 2006, a state Senate primary in Reno in 2008 and the Senate contest in 2010 -- has disappointed her conservative base. Her sometimes divisive Tea Party rhetoric on immigration, gun rights as well as on abortion has upset some GOP leaders and turned off some voters.
Angle dismissed GOP hand-wringing that she could cost Republicans a seat that's been safely GOP for 30 years.
"Everybody should be able to run," Angle said, noting she had an "open field" because no other Republican had announced.
Angle's nearly hourlong news conference at a Reno hotel was aimed at showing a different kind of candidate, one who didn't evade reporters as she often did during the 2010 campaign. She did several one-on-one interviews too.
"Let's have mutual respect for one another," said a smiling Angle, who wore a warm violet suit.
Yet Angle herself has not changed. She remains a Tea Party candidate running on a mantra of smaller government, lower taxes and less regulation, backed by a strict voting record at the Legislature. She argued she's particularly suited for the Northern Nevada congressional district, noting that Heller has voted more conservatively since 2006.
Angle has another potential advantage thanks to her Senate campaign: 250,000 donors who contributed $28 million to her in 2010. She said she has paid off her campaign debt -- about $350,000 -- and is raising money for the House run, which will cost much less. She didn't have a figure, but her campaign said several million for the primary alone.
"I can win this race," Angle insisted at the news conference.
The number 19,677 was written on a large sign taped to the podium where she spoke.
In last year's white-hot Senate race, Angle lost by nearly 6 percentage points overall, badly in the Democratic stronghold of Clark County and narrowly in Washoe County, where Reid finished 7,000 votes ahead of her.
Angle said Washoe County has been trending Democratic for years, including in 2006 when Heller lost the county but still won the House seat with 50 percent of the vote district wide. She hopes to do the same.
"When I take a job, I finish it," Angle said. "I'm a grass-roots campaigner, and that's how I'll win this race."
Some Republicans questioned Angle's logic that her 19,677-vote margin of victory over Reid outside Clark County meant she could win the House district, whose outlines might change by 2012 because of redistricting.
GOP leaders, behind the scenes, are pressing Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki to run after internal polls showed he would be the best candidate to beat Angle in the primary and a Democrat in the general election .
Krolicki said last week that he's weighing his options and will decide within weeks. Republican insiders say it's all but certain that he'll run.
Ryan Erwin, who would run Krolicki's campaign, said every Republican who ran statewide in 2010 won more votes than Angle in Washoe County, which could be key to victory in the House race in 2012.
Krolicki got 70,679 votes in Washoe compared with 63,316 for Angle, but the lieutenant governor was the incumbent with a weak Democratic opponent. Heller won 80,216 votes in Washoe, and he, too, faced a weak Democratic foe.
"It's almost sad," Erwin said. "The (Angle) campaign is less than a week old, and they are already forced to justify the candidacy because voters and donors aren't convinced that she has any legitimate chance of winning the primary, let alone the general election. Nothing I heard today is likely to change many of those minds."
Still, outside Washoe County in GOP-heavy rural Nevada, Angle won handily over Reid, sometimes getting twice his vote total.
Asked whether Angle had any regrets about how she ran her 2010 campaign, she said some, "but too few to mention."
Her biggest mistake, she said, was laying low after winning the GOP primary while Reid pounded her with negative TV ads.
"I needed to have a commercial on 24 hours after the primary," she said, naming the top lesson learned in 2010.
Asked later in an interview whom she blamed for her loss, she laughed.
"I don't really blame anybody," she said. "There was a fellow that asked me, 'How did Harry Reid win?' I told him, 'He just got more votes.' "
Still, Angle plans to hire a new campaign team, she said, including replacing her old campaign manager, Terry Campbell, who clashed with national Republican workers sent to help Angle. She said she was still putting a team in place.
Mark Amodei, head of the Nevada Republican Party, also is considering running and might announce about April 1, when a successor is chosen to lead the party. Reno state Sen. Greg Brower and Kirk Lippold, former USS Cole commander, also might run.
If Krolicki gets into the race, however, he is expected to lock up most of the big GOP donors in Nevada.
Contact reporter Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919.