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Once a vanguard of the right, Sharron Angle barely stood a chance in Nevada primary

Sharron Angle
U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle, center, at the Nevada Republican State Convention in May 2016.
(Scott Sonner / Associated Press)

In an election that illustrates the declining power of the tea party, Sharron Angle, once the face of hard-right politics in Nevada, was resoundingly defeated in Tuesday’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Rep. Joe Heck captured 65% of the vote, compared with 23% for Angle. In the general election in November, Heck will face former Nevada Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who easily won the Democratic primary.

The Angle of today is a far cry from the Nevada legislator who barnstormed the state in 2010 with the backing of the tea party and nearly toppled then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with 45% of the vote.

In that race, Angle had $30 million to spend against her Democratic foe, a national profile, the rising tide of a political movement that was scoring big wins, and the support of major donors.

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She was feted by mainstream Republicans, introduced in speeches by Sen. John McCain and could draw 1,000 people to a rally.

In the teeth of the Great Recession, she preached strict fiscal discipline and an unwillingness to compromise with the legislators of either major parties who had voted to bail out the banks in 2009. Her prescription for the nation’s woes was to pay down the national deficit, eliminate most types of federal spending and stimulate the economy with lower taxes and less regulation.

She drew her support from a grass-roots effort that opposed establishment politics and what Angle saw as its enablers, especially the media. Her 2010 campaign was so media-shy that a code phrase emerged among staff to alert Angle that the press was present: “It’s time to water the plants.”

But that didn’t save her from well-publicized gaffs.

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In a Fox News interview with host Neil Cavuto on July 12, 2010, Angle struggled to explain her opposition to Reid’s phone calls on behalf of a casino entering bankruptcy, which Angle described as a “bailout.”

“You wouldn’t do that?” the host asked. “You wouldn’t be doing everything possible to keep that big employer?" 

Angle replied that she would not help one business over another. 

Reid’s campaign reveled in her apparent self-contradictions, such as when she called for the end of Medicare and Social Security in a recorded interview in May 2010, then, six months later, insisted she never made the statement.

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By this year, Angle’s support and contributions had dwindled.

She managed to raise just $136,000 by the end of May, compared with Heck’s $6 million.

“Buyer’s remorse from 2010 [has] settled in,” said Jon Ralston, who hosts a statewide public television show about Nevada politics. "No one who backed her in 2010 is backing her now. The Tea Party Express has left the station.”

Angle did not return calls or answer emails from The Times on Tuesday. In “The Angle Examiner,” a voter guide on her website, she had said that poor poll numbers should not worry her supporters. 

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“I have always been behind in the polls, until I’m ahead,” she wrote.

But it did not come to pass.

She did have at least one popular supporter. In a television spot released in late May, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump waves Angle over to a podium.

“Sharron,” Trump says, “Sharron is great.”

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UPDATES:

1:03 p.m., June 15: This article has been updated with election results.

This article was originally published at 6:59 p.m. Tuesday.


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