The tea party flexed its considerable muscle in Nevada Tuesday night, transporting staunch conservative Assemblywoman Sharron Angle from also-ran status to a stunning political upset that pundits said would “long be remembered.”
"We have completed the first step to taking back our U.S. senate seat," Angle told supporters. "We need to say to Harry Reid, you have failed and you are fired."
According to the Nevada Secretary of State, with all votes, Angle, who barely registered a pulse in the polls before the Tea Party Express organization endorsed her in mid-April, won with 40.09 percent of the vote -- a much greater margin than even her supporters expected.
Sue Lowden, the one-time frontrunner and casino owner, won 26.11 percent. Real estate developer Danny Tarkanian collected 23.30 percent.
For Angle, the result marked a dramatic political resurrection. Just eight weeks ago in a Mason-Dixon poll, just 5 percent of Nevada GOP voters preferred Angle as their candidate to challenge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in November.
Lowden led that poll with 45 percent of the vote. Tarkanian tallied 27 percent.
Although recent polls in the campaign’s waning days suggested Angle was coming on strong, the result made a powerful impression on pundits.
“The Tea Party can take a lot of the credit for this upset,” Larry J. Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics tells Newsmax. He added Angle’s come-from-behind victory “will be long remembered.”
Fox News reported Angle the projected winner at 12:30 Wednesday morning.
National Review editor and Fox News commentator Rich Lowry remarked: “It wasn’t surprising given the latest polls. But in the context of two or three weeks ago, this would have been an utter shocker.
“And I think it tells us something about the tea parties,” he added. “The tea party doesn’t just want candidates who agree with them on the issues. They really want an authenticity. They want someone who’s totally outside the establishment, someone who doesn’t wreak of politics as usual, and that’s what they have with Sharron Angle, who’s of, by, and from the grass roots. And Harry Reid wanted to run against her -- now we’ll see if that was a good choice.”
Angle is a former teacher and five-term state representative. She sponsored the Proposition 13 measure in Nevada that put a hard cap on future property tax increases.
Reid is expected to portray her as an extremist out of touch with mainstream politics. On her Web site, Angle supports closing down the U.S. Department of Education because she considers its federal role in education unconstitutional.
Despite her slow start, Angle’s standing in the polls rose steadily after she won the endorsement of the Tea Party Express organization on April 15. That endorsement is being credited with playing a key role in her resurgence.
”We are thrilled," Levi Russell, director of communications for Tea Party Express, tells Newsmax. "We had been hoping and working for a victory, but honestly we're thrilled, and a little bit surprised to see it by such a wide margin.
"We feel it's just a demonstration with what Nevada voters need and want," he said, "and their extreme disappointment with Harry Reid by picking someone who is his polar opposite to take his seat."
Asked to explain Angle's remarkable comeback, Russell said: "That's the question on everybody's mind. You went from 5 percent to more than 40 in 60 days. What the endorsement did was it put Sharron on a level playing field with the other two candidates, who had a lot of money behind them, name recognition, star power. Sharron was the right candidate, but did not have that star power that was needed to put her on the stage in front of a lot of people."
Angle's momentum accelerated sharply the past two weeks, as tea party money and manpower flooded into her campaign. She also picked up key endorsements from the conservative FreedomWorks and Club for Growth organizations.
Angle began the campaign with less than 10 percent name recognition, but that had climbed to 96 percent in the week leading up to the election.
Her rapid emergence was particularly surprising given the threadbare, shoe-string nature of her campaign. Lacking the name recognition of her two better-heeled GOP rivals, she relied heavily on volunteers and tea party activists to staff her campaign.
The Washington Post called her campaign “skeletal,” reporting that Angle’s mid-May FEC filing revealed her campaign had no full-time staffers. But tea party activists poured over $500,000 into her campaign.
To be sure, Angle had lots of help from her main GOP rival, Lowden, who was tripped up by a series of gaffes. At a town hall meeting in April, Lowden suggested people try bartering with their doctors for their healthcare needs. She later defended that remark, stating: “In the olden days our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor.”
During the campaign, Angle was also aided indirectly by the Democratic incumbent. Reid mounted a massive TV advertising campaign against Lowden, based on polls that showed her to be his most formidable opponent.
Lowden’s supporters charged that Reid was trying to manipulate the Republican field and handpick his opponent in November. Reid, a sharp-elbowed political infighter, is expected to see Angle’s victory as opening the door to his re-election despite his pervasive unpopularity in his home state based on recent polls.
“Maybe the Reid people are wrong, but they are truly delighted [with Angle’s win],” Sabato tells Newsmax. “Because of Angle’s positions on phasing out Social Security, ending the Dept of Education, and storing nuclear waste in Nevada, they believe that Republicans have just given Reid his ticket back to D.C. I believe it will be a close, tough race. Reid is still at about 40 percent approval.”
Sabato rates the midterm contest a toss-up.
Tipping its hand as to the messaging strategy Reid will employ against Angle in November, the Nevada Democratic Party on Tuesday labeled her "dangerous" and "wacky."
"That will be the exact same tactic they've used on the tea party movement since its inception," Tea Party Express' Russell tells Newsmax. "From the beginning it was characterized as not being viable, not being influential -- which is exactly how they painted Sharron Angle.
"The good part about it is that is absolutely what everybody expected," he said confidently. "They get a d-minus for creativity there. We all anticipated that strategy and we'll be ready to dismantle it."
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