Candidate nobody is not to be underestimated
Sometimes provocative people become that way because they were provoked. Sharron Angle, 60, could be enjoying the 10 grandchildren she loves even more than her .44 magnum. Instead, she is the Republican nominee against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's quest for a fifth term as senator. Her campaign began, in a sense, three decades ago, when a judge annoyed her.
When her son was depressed about having to repeat kindergarten -- "He was a 6-year-old dropout" -- she decided on home schooling, which Nevada law permitted. But a judge construed the law to require that parents who home-school must live at least 50 miles from a public school.
She and many kindred spirits descended on Carson City to get the Legislature to correct this. One legislator, irritated by such grass-roots impertinence, said, "If I'd known there would be 500 people here instead of 50 and it would take five hours instead of 30 minutes, I would have thrown it [the legislation] in my drawer, and it would never have seen the light of day." Angle asked a cowboy standing next to her, "Can he do that?" The cowboy said yep. She has been politically incandescent ever since.
Even when asked where she was born, she is on message: "I was conceived in Lovelock [Nevada] but -- if you're not pro-life -- I was born in Klamath Falls [Oregon]." During her four terms in Nevada's 42-seat Assembly, many votes were "41-to-Angle." She wears as a badge of honor having been voted Nevada's worst legislator, a disparagement she says is always bestowed on a conservative because the voters are members of the press and the political class (the legislators and their staff).
Her favorite legislators? U.S. Sens. Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn and Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann. They are coming here to help her. She says she will be 73 at the end of two Senate terms, but notes that her 103-year-old aunt lives in Arizona with her two sons, both in their 80s.
The Democrats' Senate leader before Reid was from another thinly populated state: South Dakota's Tom Daschle was defeated in 2004. Such is the constant flood of new voters into Nevada -- only 24 percent of residents were born in the state -- that Reid's national stature matters less than it might in a place where the electorate has more local memories. Perhaps 200,000 Nevadans -- in an electorate of 2 million -- have never seen Reid's name on a ballot.
He argues that Nevada now needs his Washington potency more than ever. Angle, who laughs easily and often, does so about that: Nevada, she says, has the nation's highest per capita bankruptcy and home foreclosure rates, and now, for the first time since April 2006, Michigan does not have the nation's highest unemployment rate. Nevada does: 14 percent.
Nevada candidates buy television time here, in Reno and -- to cover eastern Nevada -- in Salt Lake City. Reid supporters spent substantial sums trying to ensure Angle's nomination by attacking her principal opponent in the primary. Reid has $9 million on hand with more coming. Angle will have ample money from conservatives nationwide. It remains to be seen whether these resources will be squandered by a campaign organization unready for prime time.
If the election becomes a referendum on him, she wins. If he makes it about some of her injudicious statements -- e.g., "transition out" of Social Security; using Yucca Mountain north of here not for storing nuclear waste but for reprocessing such waste -- he might survive.
Nevada is a swing state. Bill Clinton carried it twice, as did George W. Bush before Barack Obama won with 55 percent. Reid, who entered politics in Richard Nixon's first term, is a canny realist. Although his approval ratings are steadily in the 30s, he might get, say, 43 percent of the November vote. This might be enough, because in addition to Angle there will be seven other Senate candidates siphoning away dissatisfied voters and people will vote "none of the above," which is Nevada's catharsis for the disgusted.
Before Chicagoan Abner Mikva, now retired from the federal judiciary, was a congressman, he was a young man who dropped by a political clubhouse where a member of the city's machine asked who sent him. He said, "Nobody." The machine man said, "We don't want nobody nobody sent."
Angle is somebody nobody sent. Nobody in the upper reaches of national or even Nevada politics, that is. But voters may not be finished sending her places.