In a move that maintains her spot on the national political stage, defeated U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle said Monday that she's lending her name and her $27 million campaign donor list to a new national Tea Party group that hopes to influence the 2012 White House race.
The Patriot Caucus announced it will open offices early next year in several early presidential voting states, including Nevada, to help conservative candidates at the top of the ticket and those running for House and Senate seats.
Angle will be the face of the group, but no one from the Republican's failed bid to oust Sen. Harry Reid will be involved in the effort, which aims to take the Tea Party movement to the next level by organizing on the ground, according to a GOP insider familiar with its goals.
The new political action committee is modeled after President Barack Obama's successful 2008 campaign and the Democratic Party's Organizing for America. It uses online fundraising and community organizing to bring in millions of dollars, identify voters and get supporters to the polls.
"I understand that many of you were disappointed with the results of the 2010 elections -- especially with the victory of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid," the media-shy Angle wrote Monday on Facebook, using the social networking site to announce the PAC and ask for contributions. "However, there is one thing even more depressing -- the thought of President Obama being re-elected in 2012."
The Patriot Caucus said its goal is to help conservatives campaign on the ground, something Angle didn't do well when she lost by nearly 6 percentage points to the better organized Reid in November.
So far, the caucus is working with Tea Party groups in 15 states and plans early next year to open offices in Nevada, Iowa and New Hampshire as well as in the key battleground of Florida.
Angle has been coy about her plans, including whether she'll run for the Senate again, the House or another office in 2012. The PAC would keep her donor base active and keep her in the game.
"The Tea Party movement stood with me through a hard fought race" against Reid, she said. "It's time for me to give back and help our movement take the fight against big government to a new level."
Angle's Tea Party organization will be competing with several other similar national groups and PACs, including the Tea Party Express that backed her Senate campaign and well-known faces of the movement such as Sarah Palin. The former GOP vice presidential nominee is among at least a dozen Republicans who may run in the primary for the chance to face Obama in 2012.
Tea Party groups that grew out of an anti-tax movement in 2009 have pulled the Republican Party to the right, which has both hurt and helped the GOP. Voter energy from the movement helped Republicans take over the House, netting more than 60 seats. But the enthusiasm failed to win control of the Senate because of major losses by several flawed Tea Party candidates, including Angle.
Republicans running the established party organizations worry that Tea Party groups such as Angle's could hurt GOP chances of nominating a presidential candidate that would have cross-over appeal to moderate and independent voters needed to defeat Obama.
"You've got a lot of people who want to be kingmakers, but in 2012 it could be harmful to the process,'' said one GOP operative, who spoke on condition of anonymity to talk frankly about the Tea Party. "I don't see a candidate like (John) McCain winning in the 2012 primaries with the current environment. And if we put up a Sharron Angle candidate on the national stage we're doomed."
Even relative moderate Republicans such as Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, are seen as vulnerable. For example, the Tea Party movement could go after him for signing a health care law similar to Obama's that conservative critics call too intrusive, expensive and unconstitutional.
The person familiar with Angle's PAC, however, said backers of the Tea Party movement believe the American people are tired of politics as usual and are looking for conservatives who will fight for smaller government and lower taxes instead of making deals with Democrats.
"We're creating a structure to help a candidate who may not be a Washington, D.C., pick," said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal thinking. "There'll be the D.C. guy -- man or woman -- that's going to have a lot of money and the ability to get the message out. And there'll be the person people really want. That's who we want to help."
As for splitting the GOP, the Tea Party group believes that backing from the movement will give Republicans "the base of support and the opportunity to fight for what they should have been fighting for all along. The issues don't divide us nearly as much as the tactics and strategy."
Angle brings to the PAC her proven ability to raise money from several hundred thousand small donors nationwide. About $14.7 million of the $27 million her campaign raised came from people giving $200 or less. Altogether, the Patriot Caucus starts with an e-mail list of at least 1 million people.
The Patriot Caucus plans to begin launching elements of its online "action hub" throughout January and then will hold an organizing meeting of its Tea Party groups Jan. 29 in Las Vegas.
In May, the group plans a major event to launch its ground organizations and its search for what one insider called "the liberty candidate" for president.
Levi Russell, a spokesman for the Tea Party Express, said the group welcomes Angle's new organization. He said the movement needs more ground organization to help elect conservatives who believe in smaller government, lower taxes and less spending to decrease the debt.
"There's a need for Tea Party groups to organize people a little bit more," he said. "We've been more trying to inspire people and be a visible part of the Tea Party."
Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919.