Politics & Policy

Rough Sailing for Angle in Early Weeks of Campaign

Since winning the primary election and the opportunity to thwart Harry Reid’s bid for a fifth senate term, it’s been rough seas and tough sailing for Republican nominee and Tea Party darling Sharron Angle. Her campaign has struggled with problems both situational and self-created while attempting to dodge a barrage of well-aimed torpedoes from the decks of a formidable Harry Reid campaign machine. 

A Nevada press corps eager to obtain footage for the evening news or fodder for punditry has criticized Angle, with some validity, for limiting or altogether avoiding question-and-answer sessions, even at press events her own campaign hosts. Some of the questions posed have been tough, not unreasonable, and Angle’s seeming reluctance to step up to the plate and swing at a few hardballs has not played well for her.

In an interview earlier this month with Christian Broadcasting Network, Angle defended her media strategy, saying she prefers to appear in places she can plug her website and ask for donations. She did raise an impressive $2.6 million in the last cycle and, in all fairness to her, it is not uncommon for a candidate to give preference to friendly media forums, especially in the early weeks of a campaign.

Moreover, not long after her primary win, Angle did submit to a half-hour in the hot seat with political commentator and grillmaster Jon Ralston on his statewide television show Face to Face. She deserves some credit for that. But the after-interview flaming she took for many of her lackluster answers likely contributed to her campaign’s cautious attitude toward tough interviews.

When asked last week whether they plan to change their approach to media relations, Angle’s press secretary and acting spokesperson, Jerry Stacy, said they receive over 100 requests for interviews each day from both Nevadan and national media and that there is only so much face time she can give while also trying to travel and do fundraising. Stacy also questioned the wisdom of granting interviews to a “hostile media” that is “going to try to spin things against Sharron Angle no matter what she says.”

Hostile media or not, Angle has had a fairly serious messaging problem in the first six weeks of her campaign. Her comments at times provide free ammunition to the opposition. Saying it was not her job as a senator to create jobs was understandable based on Angle’s conservative ideology, but it sounded unsympathetic when coupled with prior remarks that many people collecting unemployment benefits are “spoiled.” With Nevada’s unemployment rate at 14 percent and foreclosures among the highest in the nation, Angle will have to learn to navigate carefully the rhetorical waters if she hopes to win the hearts and minds of suffering voters.

Professional consultants from D.C. and operatives from the National Republican Senatorial Committee recently arrived in Nevada to help her hone her message. But even as Team Angle regroups, Harry Reid’s campaign and the state Democratic party both have been attempting (with some success) to paint Angle as a dangerous and wacky extremist. 

Despite Angle’s attempt to make subtle adjustments to past positions and soften her rhetoric for the general election–for example, she now says she wants to “personalize” and “protect” Social Security, rather than privatize or eliminate it, and she suggests that education is best funded and managed at a local level rather than by an ineffective federal bureaucracy–Team Reid has been adeptly using their apparently massive archive of Angle’s past statements to pull her down in the polls.

Up by double digits as she came off her primary win, Angle has now slipped either into a dead heat with or well behind Reid depending on your pollster of preference.

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