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Nevada Senate nominee Angle keeps low profile at Capitol

By Amy Gardner, Karen Tumulty and Felicia Sonmez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2010; A03

Sharron Angle, Nevada's newly minted Republican Senate nominee, arrived in Washington on Tuesday to court GOP powerbrokers and try to prove that she is ready to take down Majority Leader Harry M. Reid. But as she made the rounds of the senators she came to see, the anti-Washington candidate seemed to go out of her way not to be seen.

All of Angle's meetings took place behind closed doors, beginning with a stop at the Senate Republicans' weekly luncheon as the guest of John Ensign (Nev.). She hustled past reporters without saying a word, and remained inside for an hour and a half. (Three short rounds of applause could be heard.)

Angle's Washington visit illustrated one of the difficulties she now faces. Even as she reaches out to national Republican strategists and donors to compete against Reid's massive political machine, she must strive not to appear as though she is losing her outsider "tea party" identity to the GOP establishment.

Larry Hart, her campaign consultant, promised over the weekend that Angle will remain "down-home." But some tea party activists have begun to doubt whether she is remaining true to the cause. "When you start making it a political thing and then it's the name and the money behind you that wins, that takes away from it," said Tammy Symons, founder of the Moapa Valley Tea Party in suburban Las Vegas. "And then you have a tendency to owe those people who come in and take over your campaign. That's what we've been fighting against. It's not okay just because it's behind closed doors."

When the door to the luncheon finally opened, a smiling Angle walked out, accompanied by Rob Jesmer, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

A dozen reporters followed the candidate. She momentarily eluded them down a back stairway before the group caught up with her, continuing to pepper her with questions as she bustled through the halls of the Capitol into a light drizzle outside and into a black sedan.

She did offer one brief statement. A reporter asked whether she was happy with the reception she received at lunch.

"Yes," she said.

Angle left Republican senators to do the talking for her.

"She's going to run her own campaign," Ensign said, when asked about Angle's silent strategy. "This is a person who came out of nowhere and won handily in the campaign, and it shocked a lot of people. But right now, as I said before, she's an outsider. That's a good thing to be this year."

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) offered an assessment of her opponent: "The people of Nevada are tired of him. At least, that's what I hear."

And Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) said he is confident that Angle can beat Reid. Coburn said she did not take questions from senators at the lunch. They discussed "getting her organization together."

If the query on this November's ballot was whether to replace Reid, there is little doubt what the outcome would be. Nevada polls show that well over half of the state's recession-battered voters have soured on the Democrat, who has served four terms in the Senate. As a result, he has tried to direct attention away from himself and make the race about Angle, a conservative whose anti-government stands on issues -- she has said she would do away with Social Security and shut down the Department of Education -- are easy to caricature in attack ads.

In the primary, Angle was assisted by more than $400,000 in independent funding from the Tea Party Express and $475,000 from the conservative organization Club for Growth. But with just two full-time staff members (neither of whom returned phone calls for this article) and a handful of part-time consultants, her campaign was ill-equipped to do battle with Reid.

In the final days before the primary, she declined to tell local reporters where she would appear in public. And shortly after she won, her campaign Web site was scrubbed of her policy positions -- which reappeared only after the media took notice.

She has since hired the Indiana new media firm Prosper Group, which helped Scott Brown pull of his Massachusetts Senate win in January. And on Wednesday, she is expected to visit with potential GOP donors.

By the end of her visit to the Capitol, the buzz about her silence had grown so loud that Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), chairman of the NRSC, felt compelled to come to her defense. He promised that Angle would grant "complete, 100 percent access" to the media in a few weeks, and acknowledged that she is not prepared for the enormous attention she has received, saying: "I don't think anybody would be prepared for a race where 20 or 30 million dollars is going to be spent in negative advertising."

Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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