LAS VEGAS - Just who is Sharron Angle?
Republicans and Democrats rushed Wednesday to sketch out a public image for the Nevada Tea Party candidate who will take on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in November.
While Angle stayed conspicuously out of sight a day after winning Nevada's GOP Senate primary, national Republicans who kept a distance from the campaign moved to embrace her.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele told reporters that voters should expect to "hear policies and positions expressed in a different way" from a new generation of GOP candidates, Angle included.
The committee plans to help finance her campaign, but Steele provided few specifics. He called her "reflective of the grassroots views across the country."
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Angle was "untainted by the special interests." Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced his political committee would contribute $5,000 to Angle, the maximum donation.
But Democrats seized on issues they hope will define Angle and shape the November race, including her proposals to phase out Social Security for younger workers, eliminate the Education Department, bring nuclear waste to Nevada for reprocessing and repeal the 16th Amendment that established a federal income tax.
The election "is the most stark choice voters will have in the United States this year," said Jim Margolis, Reid's Washington-based consultant. "The more people learn about Sharron Angle and her far-out ideas ... the better off we are going to be."
And that notion wasn't limited to Democrats. The host of a conservative radio talk show in Reno used part of his program Wednesday to caution Angle's supporters that "there are things about Sharron that are annoying to the voters."
"She has to work on some things in order to beat Harry Reid," KKOH's Bill Manders said.
"This is coming from a conservative talk show host: Sharron Angle needs to slide to the left a little bit, to the middle, so to speak. Not stay way over to the right. Because this hardcore right thing is going to kill her against Harry Reid."
"It may cost her an election if she doesn't understand that," Manders said.
Boosted by endorsements from the Tea Party Express and the anti-tax Club for Growth, Angle scored a come-from-behind win Tuesday in a field of 12 candidates. She says a tide of conservatism is sweeping across the country and it's Reid and President Barack Obama's agenda that are out of the American mainstream.
Angle, 60, was educated as an artist and teacher and served several terms in the Legislature, where she was known as a renegade, even within her own party. Tea Party activists have been attracted by her record supporting smaller government.
"I was conservative before it was fashionable," she said recently.
"It doesn't matter about the money and it doesn't matter about the celebrity, it matters about the message," she added.
While in the Legislature, she wanted inmates to enter a drug rehabilitation program devised by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, an idea she still defends. She once suggested alcohol should be illegal and that illicit drug sales in Nevada helped finance the Sept. 11 attacks.
Angle is a tested campaigner, but one of her challenges will be avoiding the kinds of slip-ups that hurt one-time front-runner Sue Lowden, who was widely ridiculed for suggesting bartering with doctors for medical care - "our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor."
But even among Republicans, Angle has been depicted as a risky bet. Lowden ran a TV ad depicting Angle as a career politician with eyebrow-raising ideas like the Scientology program. Reno Republican Mayor Bob Cashell said it would take a nominee like Lowden to unseat Reid and "if that is not the case, Harry Reid will be re-elected."
About half of Nevadans are unhappy with Reid's leadership but he might never need their votes. In a race with five candidates in November, it's possible Reid could win with as little as 44 percent or 45 percent of the vote (minor party candidates typically account for about 10 percent of the vote, with the rest split by the major party nominees). Even with his shaky approval ratings, he doesn't have far to go for a winning margin.