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« California Candidates Mobilizing For Senate, Gov Races | Blog Home Page | Obama's Buck-Stops-Here Presser »

Nevada Republicans Split On Angle

Following tea party-backed Rand Paul's stumble out of the gate of the Kentucky Republican Senate primary last week, another candidate across the country is likewise giving some establishment Republicans fits.

Sharron Angle, whose endorsement by the Tea Party Express led to a surge in polling, is no longer an afterthought in the June 8 Nevada GOP Senate primary. Like Paul, Angle is not the establishment-preferred candidate. That would be Sue Lowden, a former state party chair and state senator who entered politics in 1992 by knocking off the Democratic state Senate majority leader.

With the seat of the U.S. Senate majority leader in play, Nevada Republican leaders are split over several aspects of Angle's candidacy: whether she can beat Sen. Harry Reid; whether her views are too extreme; and whether she will be able to successfully work alongside others with differing opinions in the Senate -- as Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy once did, for example.

"Some Republicans don't think she is ready, but for the most part the voters do," said Republican National Committeewoman Heidi Smith. "We in Nevada have become tired of the old backroom politics, and I think the voters see Sharron as a change."

That plays out in recent polling, with the last public poll showing Angle trailing Lowden by just 5 points.

Some of the questions about Angle arise from her 2008 primary challenge to state Senate Majority Leader William Raggio. Two years after nearly defeating Republican Rep. Dean Heller in a primary, Angle again came up short. But with the state party forced to spend valuable resources to defend Raggio, less was available for others and Republicans lost two state Senate races -- and, with them, the majority.

Raggio, now Senate minority leader, has endorsed Lowden and is not surprisingly unexcited about Angle's Senate bid.

"The concern of most Republicans is that she's the least likely one who could beat Harry Reid -- and the race is close at this point," he said.

Raggio's Senate colleague, Barbara Cegavske, who has not endorsed anyone, feels any of the Republicans in the race would be competitive and that Lowden is just as susceptible as Angle to an aggressive campaign by Reid.

"I think that the opposition is going to try to find anything they can to use against any candidate, I don't care who it is," said Cegavske. "Harry can say just about anything he wants, but I think his goose is cooked."

Clark County Republican Party Chairman Bob Ruckman concurs with Cegavske and notes Angle's four terms as a state Assemblywoman as evidence that she's got more experience than Paul, a political novice.

"I'm okay with people who feel Sharron or Danny [Tarkanian] or Sue may not be the best candidate," he said. "But I think there's too much being drawn out of the standard bearers who only feel that one candidate can win."

Cegavske and Ruckman also both said that establishment Republicans will support whoever wins the primary. But not everyone believes this.

One former GOP state legislator told RCP some Republicans may stay home or even vote for Reid if Angle is the nominee. They worry that Angle won't cooperate with senators from the East who don't readily understand the issues of importance in Nevada -- such as federal ownership of land, water laws, environmental issues and wild horses -- and their support is essential for Nevada senators to get legislation passed.

Some of Angle's views match up with libertarians like Paul, and that's worrisome to party leaders who watched Paul criticize the constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Rights Act one day after winning the primary. With Reid one of the most vulnerable members of the Senate, there's an urgency to get the right candidate.

Positions such as wanting the United States to withdraw from the United Nations, calling the Department of Education unconstitutional and wanting to shift Social Security to a free market alternative are particularly troubling to some.

"Her message is too radical. It's too far right," said Raggio. "I think most Republicans would consider themselves Reagan conservatives. He said there's room under the tent for people that have some differing views. But I think her views are those we want to exclude."

Ruckman, who's been party chairman of the state's biggest county since last year, argues that establishment Republicans haven't exactly put the party on a successful track recently. That's part of the reason for the uproar happening across the country.

"Establishment Republicans in Nevada have lost two election cycles, and it's pretty obvious that the policies that they've had over the last eight to 12 years have not stood us in very good stead," he said. "My family has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the party. But in the last two election cycles we've been very disgusted about donating all this money -- and we lose."