Sharron Angle once had a shot at taking down Harry Reid.
Six years later, she’s back.
These days, the tea party favorite is hoping to reverse her political misfortunes of 2010 and succeed Nevada’s retiring senior senator, also the Senate’s Democratic minority leader. Her previous Senate campaign wasn’t able to close the deal after spending more than $28 million. She got 44.55 percent of the vote, while Reid won with 50.29 percent.
Angle is facing a dramatically different political landscape compared with six years ago. The 2010 election came at the height of the tea party movement amid a backlash against Democratic President Barack Obama, and that voting cycle ushered in plenty of fresh-faced new Republican members of Congress who, such as Angle, hew to the conservative wing of the party.
This time, Reid isn’t running. And Angle is facing a formidable Republican in the GOP primary on June 14: U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, who jumped into the race in July. Seven other Republicans are running, nine in all.
On the Democratic side, the most prominent contender is Catherine Cortez Masto, a former Nevada attorney general running with Reid’s support.
One thing that clearly isn’t different from six years ago: Angle herself. She’s still a headline-grabbing candidate who values her independence and isn’t beholden to the Republican establishment.
“I haven’t changed,” she said Friday in an interview with the Review-Journal. “I think that’s what people like. I haven’t changed.”
Angle’s campaign press releases have flair, as does her in-person commentary.
Her campaign release sent out Wednesday was headlined: “Sharron Angle Responds To Satanic Depiction.”
At issue was an April Fools’ Day story and image of Angle that ran in the Reno News & Review.
An unflattering, obviously fake picture of Angle showed her with fangs and a satirized news account referenced a “black magic ceremony” and “ritualized bloodletting of three illegal immigrant virgins,” among other observations.
Angle fired back: “I have grandchildren, so I know what it’s like when they start coloring and making things up like they do, although mine wouldn’t draw anything like this. I get that it’s a joke, I have a sense of humor, however the voters in Nevada do not see it that way.”
In an interview, Angle showed a determination not to let the media define her.
Asked if there are any misperceptions about her, Angle said: “Only if the media is misrepresenting me.”
“If they met me, they know who I am and they understand where I stand on all the issues,” Angle said. “My record is very clear.”
Angle served four terms in the Assembly, from 1998 to 2006.
Asked what her age is, she laughed and told a reporter to look it up online.
“I’m going to teach you a little manners here, sweetheart,” a 66-year-old smiling Angle told a Review-Journal reporter. “You don’t ever ask a lady her age, her weight or her height.”
She did give one clue — she’s more youthful than Reid.
“I’m younger than Harry,” she said.
Reid, for the record, is 76 years old.
SUPPORTERS WEIGH IN
For Angle supporters, there are regrets that 2010 didn’t go better, but also hopes that 2016 will turn out different.
Laurel Fee was a staffer on Angle’s campaign in 2010 and is volunteering again this campaign.
“I like that she’s firm,” Fee said. “Her desire really is to represent the people. Imagine if she had been elected in 2010.”
Assemblyman Brent Jones, a Las Vegas Republican, encouraged Angle to run, as did state Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks. Jones said she’s a “true conservative.”
Gustavson, who served with Angle in the Assembly, said her willingness to stop “bad laws” from being passed is key.
“Sharron gets a bad rap all the time about voting no all the time,” he said. “Well, we both got elected not to go down and make new laws but to stop bad laws from being passed, and that’s why we vote no as much as we do.”
As for this campaign, supporters are hoping for a different outcome.
“I think she learned a lot. I think the whole campaign learned a lot and can do some things better,” Fee said, adding that’s true for every campaign.
Fee said the opposition “just crushed her” on the illegal immigration issue.
But Angle generated plenty of controversy on her own in 2010. For example, her campaign ran a television ad that called Reid “the best friend an illegal alien ever had.”
Angle said the U.S. needs to secure its borders and prevent illegal immigration.
Supporters also point to her background: Angle has Hispanic grandchildren. She attends a Spanish-language church on Sunday evenings and a community church on Sunday mornings.
Angle isn’t an establishment pick. In this topsy-turvy election cycle, supporters are hoping that works in her favor.
“Joe Heck has big name recognition,” Fee said. “I think the establishment has endorsed him and will support him financially … but I also believe this is not the year to be establishment, which gives her an equal footing in the race. People are looking for new and different.”
Still, Angle’s 2010 campaign quickly became fodder for the Democratic opposition to Heck — even before Angle was officially in the race. When Angle was a possible candidate, the Democratic opposition sent out emails comparing Angle and Heck.
As for Angle’s run, Cortez Masto spokesman Zach Hudson said: “While there are too many differences between Sharron Angle and Catherine Cortez Masto to list in one article, it’s hard to find any differences between Angle and her opponent, Congressman Heck. Both Angle and Congressman Heck want to eliminate the Department of Education, privatize Social Security, defund Planned Parenthood, and oppose the bipartisan increase in education funding passed by Gov. Sandoval and the Legislature.”
Heck’s campaign declined to comment on both Angle’s run and the statement from Cortez Masto’s campaign.
Angle, meanwhile, is saying plenty.
She’s not afraid to offend. A recent Roll Call report, quoting former officials with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Angle in 2010 visited with the group and talked about Social Security as if its cash reserves were kept in a “lockbox” in West Virginia.
Asked about the account, Angle repeated that it’s “dorky” and she doesn’t believe that.
She said she won’t be working with the group, saying they missed the point and “didn’t understand the issue,” which is that Social Security is not an entitlement program to be raided for other uses and people have paid money into it.
The National Federation of Republican Assemblies, a grass-roots conservative group that Angle has led as president, endorsed GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz in September. But billionaire businessman Donald Trump won the group’s straw poll.
For Angle, having either one as the president — with the other as vice president — is a winning combination.
“If we had a Trump/Cruz or Cruz/Trump ticket, I would be happy,” she said.
On the money front, Angle starts from behind. Heck announced his run for Senate in July, and Cortez Masto announced in April 2015. Angle didn’t officially jump in until she filed in March of this year.
As of Friday, Angle hadn’t reported receiving any money with the Federal Election Commission, which requires reports after a candidate has raised or spent $5,000. Yet the Senate race is expected to be one of the most competitive in the U.S., one that both Republicans and Democrats view as a potential win.
Heck had $2.86 million cash on hand at the end of 2015; Cortez Masto had $1.99 million.
Angle got plenty of support in 2010: She raised $28.1 million during that campaign and outspent Reid. Reid, in comparison, raised nearly $25 million and spent almost $26 million.
Angle said most came from small donations. She said support will be needed for this campaign, too: “We’re just citizens and we want citizen help.”
She added: “The same message is true because we know that Harry Reid has his handpicked successor. It’s going to take those same kind of resources to defeat Harry Reid’s special interest money.”
But not every donor will be following the path of 2010. Club for Growth PAC, a conservative group that was one of the largest donors to her first Senate campaign, isn’t giving to her campaign this time around.
The group gave her $356,862 in 2010, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
“Sharron’s a great person and a great conservative,” said Doug Sachtleben, spokesman for the Club for Growth PAC. “But we would have doubts about whether this candidacy would turn out differently from 2010.”
Contact Ben Botkin at email@example.com or 702-387-2904. Find @BenBotkin1 on Twitter.