WASHINGTON — Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle said Thursday she will concentrate on pocketbook issues if elected in November and will not emphasize a "personal agenda" on social issues that has included support for school prayer and opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.
"My agenda is going to be very focused on the economy, on our jobs and our homes. That is where Nevadans are living," Angle said during an interview. The former assemblywoman from Northern Nevada has campaigned almost exclusively on the economic hardships facing the state, and she indicated there will be no bait-and-switch if she is sent to Capitol Hill.
"Certainly I am a values-oriented person," said Angle, who describes herself as a social conservative. But she added, "At the state level I had that opportunity to go after a personal agenda if I chose to, but my first interest was representation, and that was what the people sent me back there for."
Angle served in the Nevada Legislature from 1999 to 2005. During that time, she was most closely associated with anti-tax petitions and other fiscal measures but did not totally ignore other topics.
"My focus was on where I felt my constituents’ focus was, and that was bringing government into a more restrictive place as far as our pocketbooks are concerned," she said.
During the Senate campaign, Angle has sought to keep the attention of voters squarely on the state’s unemployment and housing foreclosure crises — and a finger of blame pointed at Democrat Sen. Harry Reid.
Meanwhile, the incumbent’s strategy has included calling attention to his challenger’s stances on controversial and divisive issues, seeking to characterize her as out of the mainstream.
Those have included Angle’s support in the Legislature for a "second chance" drug treatment program associated with Scientology and a bill that would have required doctors to inform women seeking abortions about a controversial theory linking abortion with an increased risk of breast cancer.
On a survey conducted by a conservative political action committee during the Nevada primary, Angle said she opposes abortion in all cases, opposes adding "sexual orientation" as a protected minority under civil rights law, opposes allowing gays to adopt children, and supports school prayer and "religious speech" in public school. She also supported state legislation that defined marriage solely as between a man and a woman.
Angle on Thursday defended the breast cancer bill, calling it a citizen protection measure. "I feel women should have all the information available to them when they make life-changing decisions for any kind of invasive procedure," she said.
But Angle said Reid’s strategy to marginalize her on social matters is missing the point.
"When I am out walking door to door and having town hall meetings, they don’t come up," she said. "Harry Reid wants to make them issues, but they are not issues. The issues are our homes, our jobs and the economy."
Jon Summers, a spokesman for Reid’s campaign, said Reid is justified in calling attention to all facets of his opponent.
"Yes, the economy is the most important issue facing Nevada’s families," he said. "There are other issues that matter to them as well. And when you are looking to replace the most powerful person in the Senate, it is worthwhile to get to know the person."
Angle "may want to distract from her record and things she has said, but she can’t because that is who she is, and people deserve to know that," Summers said.
Mark Peplowski, a political science professor at the College of Southern Nevada, said it is to Angle’s benefit to keep the race focused on the economy, where it will be won or lost, and away from other potentially distracting issues.
Whether Angle, if elected, could limit her involvement in social issues remains to be seen, Peplowski said. Either way, he said, there will be few opportunities for conservatives to make headway for at least the next few years as Congress will be closely divided and will have a full plate debating economic recovery.
On an East Coast swing this week, Angle raised money in New Jersey and New York City on Wednesday and met Thursday with strategists at the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
It was Angle’s first trip to Washington, D.C., since mid-June, shortly after she won the state’s Republican primary. During that visit she avoided contact with the media. On Thursday she granted interviews with several news organizations.
Angle attended two fundraisers Thursday, her first public outreach to the lobbying community after criticizing Reid earlier in the campaign for the sums he has collected from lobbyists.
Angle defended her lobbyist fundraising, contending "it is not the same thing" as Reid, a longtime lawmaker who she charged "has been doing this for years and years." She contended two-thirds of her money is coming from donors giving less than $100.
Reid and Angle are neck and neck in polls heading into the final weeks of the campaign, with early voting to start Oct. 16. President Barack Obama will return to Las Vegas to campaign for Reid on Oct. 22, and it was reported that former President Bill Clinton, in the city this week to boost gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid, might return too.
Angle maintained she is not fearful of the visitors, whose job will be to energize Democrats and help Reid make his closing arguments to independent voters.
Considering Nevadans’ mixed opinion of Obama, "I don’t know how to put this kindly … I don’t think I would want the president to come on my behalf," she said.
As for Republican firepower, Angle said her campaign is in contact with Sarah Palin about a possible role, although it might not include a Nevada visit by the 2008 vice presidential candidate and Tea Party favorite.
A Palin appearance might polarize parts of the electorate while exciting others, and Angle said Palin realizes that.
"She has been talking to us about what would be the most effective way, and I will leave that to her as to what will be most beneficial to me," Angle said. "I know that is what she wants to do, to be of benefit to me.
"We know her (Palin’s) fundraising capabilities are certainly stellar, so we are hoping her involvement will get us to that place where we get money for the message to get to voters."
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.