‘She’s running the worst campaign in the country, and she could still win.”
That’s James Carville talking about Nevada Republican Sharron Angle, who until this spring was a virtual unknown, but who is giving the United States Senate majority leader the run of his political life. Harry Reid is tied in his fight against Angle, even though he has outspent her and has a well-established name.
The name is a large part of his problem, though.
“They have fallen out of love,” Angle tells me about Nevada voters’ not-that-into-you relationship with Reid. She believes they “hold Harry Reid personally responsible for the policies coming out of Washington, D.C.”
There is 14 percent unemployment in the state of Nevada. On the campaign trail, Angle says, people ask her about the economy. They ask, “‘How can we get this turned around?’” she says. “They’re upset with the spending. They’re upset with the debt.
“Folks like me, who aren’t really looking for a job,” Angle tells me, “we have children and grandchildren who are in the workforce. And when we call and ask, ‘How are you doing?’ what we really mean is, ‘Do you still have your job? Can you still make your mortgage payment?’”
In that climate, Reid’s celebrating “only 36,000” lost jobs in America as “really good” — as he did in response to unemployment numbers in March — doesn’t play all that well. In that climate, you don’t have to be Reid’s opponent to reject his spin on his job performance. Speaking in June, Reid said: “I think when . . . the accounting’s done on the books, you’ll find that my role as majority leader has been very, very good for Nevada.” He added, “I control what goes in and out of the Senate, and as a result of that Nevada’s gotten far more than its share.” The Las Vegas Review Journal checked that with reality: “The stimulus bill . . . is supposed to give some relief to a nation battered by unemployment, home foreclosures, and state budget shortfalls. Yet Nevada, where all of those problems are intense, is getting less help from the federal government than most other states on a per person basis. In total stimulus funds, the state has a per capita rank of 50th out of 51 (that’s 50 states plus Washington, D.C.); in education funding, it’s 51st; in transportation, it’s 48th; and in Medicaid funds, it’s 47th.”
The final accounting may just show Reid paying the price for failed leadership.
Nevada voters, Angle says, “are upset with the policies coming out of Washington, promoted by Harry Reid. The deals that he has made. The being totally out of touch and disconnected from what voters want. They told him they didn’t want Obamacare, and Congress passed it anyway.” Reid pushed for it, Angle emphasizes, “and he made deals with their tax dollars to do it. They’re angered by his failure to listen.”
It’s the worst kept secret of American politics that Sharron Angle is not the most polished candidate of the 2010 midterm elections. She is not only ridiculed by influential Democrats like Carville but dismissed by mainstream reporters for making “a lot of outlandish, absurd comments.” More politically experienced Republicans have been known to roll their eyes when asked about Sharron Angle. But she speaks with a grandmotherly love about her country and her state and about service to the same. As senator, she tells me, “I don’t want to stay out of state very long, and that’s because it’s important to me to meet with the constituents. I listen and I’m responsive. They know that from my record in the state legislature. I want to be responsive.”
About the final weeks of the race, Angle says: “We know that my strength has always been grassroots. When I am able to talk to people face to face they like me. They know that I am one of them.”
Grassroots, of course, is what the tea party in its purest form is about. Listening to Angle, it’s hard not to believe that the ultimate in tea-party victories on Election Day would be in Nevada.
Which is exactly why so much effort is going into trying to tear her down. Jarrod Agen, communications director for the Angle campaign, tells me, in response to Carville, “The incumbent majority leader, with unlimited resources, is locked in a dead heat after spending millions attacking Sharron Angle, and he wants to criticize our campaign? We must be doing something right if a grandmother from Reno is tied with the second-most-powerful man in Washington, D.C.”
After Sonia Sotomayor was nominated to the Supreme Court, Senator Reid said, “I understand that during her career, she’s written hundreds and hundreds of opinions. I haven’t read a single one of them, and if I’m fortunate, before we end this, I won’t have to read one of them.” This year, in the state with the highest unemployment in the nation, people’s patience with that sense of coasting entitlement from a man whose family has financially benefited from his position may just be over.
Carville did have one thing quite right. Angle doesn’t have to run a Campaigns and Elections award-winning campaign to defeat him. As Doug Schoen, another Democrat, and co-author of the tea-party analysis Mad as Hell, puts it: “The movement that is backing Angle is more potent electorally at this point than is the mainstream Democratic party — or the Republicans, for that matter.”
Angle is a walking success story already. The tea party is about a “paradigm shift,” Anne Sorock of the tea-infused Sam Adams Alliance puts it. Nevada’s David-and-Goliath story vividly paints the picture of one. And it will be in bolder colors still if the Senate majority leader is, in fact, defeated.
– Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. She can be reached at [email protected]. This column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact Carmen Puello.