Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle won the GOP primary Tuesday in Nevada's US Senate race. She'll face Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the fall.
AP Photo/Isaac Brekken, File
Sen. Harry Reid calls Social Security the greatest social program in history, Sharron Angle wants it phased out. The senator blocked the Yucca Mountain nuclear dump, Angle wants to expand Nevada's nuclear industry. Reid is asking for six more years in Washington, Angle is promising to send him into retirement.
Tuesday's primary election gives Nevada voters a striking choice in November: return the Democrat Reid for a fifth term or elevate a former Republican legislator who is a self-styled renegade in her own party.
A tea party favorite, Angle will be testing the limits of anti-Washington sentiment in a year when many voters are eager for change.
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After a bruising primary in which some of her rivals questioned her ability to defeat Reid, Angle easily topped a field of 12 candidates with 40 percent of the vote. The campaign "is about taking back America," she told cheering supporters.
Millionaire Sue Lowden, a former beauty queen who served in the state Senate, was the early front-runner before being widely ridiculed for suggesting bartering with doctors for medical care — "our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor." She later faced questions about her use of a campaign bus that she first said was donated to the campaign, but later said was leased.
Angle was bolstered by endorsements from the Tea Party Express and the anti-tax Club for Growth, which each ran advertisements on her behalf. Lowden's campaign argued Angle was too far out of the mainstream to defeat Reid and exaggerated her conservative credentials.
Reid, 70, is the bland, sometimes prickly Democratic powerhouse who tells Nevadans, "I'm just who I am." Angle, 60, is a fiercely committed small-government, low-tax crusader, an outsider even in the GOP, who says, "I am the tea party."
Democrats are already depicting Angle as a loopy fringe figure, more caricature than politician. With plenty of money on hand and deep-pocketed allies, Reid and his supporters are expected to use TV ads to quickly define Angle in the populous Las Vegas region — home to about two of every three state voters — where she is not well known.
The Patriot Majority, funded in part by unions and run by Craig Varoga, a veteran Democratic operative who did a stint on Reid's staff years ago, launched a website ridiculing Angle and calling her positions "completely out of step." Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez said Angle "cares more about promoting a strict social doctrine than helping grow the state's economy."
Angle wants to eliminate the Education Department and once suggested that alcohol should be illegal. While in the Legislature, she wanted inmates to enter a drug rehabilitation program devised by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, an idea she still defends.
Reid breaks with her on a host of issues. In an interview, he called Social Security "the most important social program in the history of the world." With Nevada suffering with 13.7 percent unemployment, Reid said the campaign would focus on jobs, including green energy.
"Why shouldn't the people of Nevada be concerned and upset. I'm as concerned and upset as they are," Reid said. "We've got a lot of work to do."
It's not clear if the Republican establishment that Angle bucked throughout her legislative days will turn around and embrace her.
She needs money, quickly. And she will have to rapidly expand her campaign team; she ran her primary operation out of her home, with a brain trust of two other people: her husband Ted and press secretary Jerry Stacy.
"It looks like good news for Harry Reid," said University of Nevada, Las Vegas, political scientist David DaMore. "She has pretty well defined herself as a niche candidate. How does she break out of that mold to a broader audience?"
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele promised that Angle would get the support from the national party she needs to win.
Reid knows the race won't be a walkover — he's been compared to former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, whose support for a liberal-leaning agenda in Washington cost him re-election in his conservative home state of South Dakota in 2004.
But he's now running about even with the Republican nominee, polls have found. A string of earlier polls showed Reid losing to a lineup of possible Republican nominees, but he has benefited from missteps and infighting in the GOP field.
Reid has never been a beloved figure in his home state. But he has survived close elections before, and he is preparing for a bruising fight this year. The casino industry and labor unions are betting on him, he has a substantial list of Republican supporters, and he is on his way to raising an unprecedented $25 million for the race.
In the state's U.S. House races, Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley will defend her seat in November against Republican Kenneth Wegner in Las Vegas' 1st District in a rematch of 2006 and 2008 races, and Democratic Rep. Dina Titus will face Republican Joe Heck in November in the 3rd District. Republicans nominated Rep. Dean Heller in the 2nd District, but Democrats Nancy Price and Ken McKenna were in a razor thin contest for the Democratic nomination with about 300 votes separating them.
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