A thorn for the establishment

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Sharron Angle’s entry into the Nevada Senate race creates a headache for Republicans hoping to sail through a primary and focus on a tough general election.

The 2010 Republican Senate nominee’s decision to run upends the party establishment’s plan to rally behind Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) in an uncontested primary as the GOP looks to flip the seat being vacated when Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidMeet the rising Dem star positioned to help Clinton on gun control Reid: Congress should return 'immediately' to fight Zika Classified briefings to begin for Clinton, Trump MORE (D-Nev.) retires.

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Democrats celebrated Angle’s return to the political arena in the hopes that her candidacy will divert time and resources Heck could use against their party’s favored candidate, former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.

“Sharron Angle’s decision to run represents yet another stunning recruitment failure” by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and “will further highlight Congressman Joe Heck’s out-of-touch record,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua said after Angle’s announcement on Friday.

While strategists and political observers say the race is still too early to tell how much support and money Angle should expect for the June 14 primary, they believe Republicans are less likely to flock to this campaign after her unsuccessful run in 2010.

“A lot of Republicans are going to be very wary of supporting her after what happened in 2010,” said Jon Ralston, a veteran Nevada political journalist. “A lot of groups that might have helped fund her will have a very different attitude this time, I guess, which is why it’ll be interesting to see exactly how much money she can raise.” 

In 2010, Angle emerged from a heated GOP primary as the nominee. Reid and the Democratic Party trained most of their fire on Sue Lowden, former Nevada GOP chairwoman, who was considered the leading contender.

The conservative Club for Growth and the Tea Party Express endorsed Angle, but some high-profile Nevada Republicans backed Reid over Angle because she was considered too extreme.

Angle, who was gaffe-prone and drew criticism for avoiding the press, ultimately lost to Reid by nearly 6 points amid a GOP electoral wave and the rise of the Tea Party.

Even before Angle decided to run this year, Republicans appeared eager not to repeat past mistakes as they seek to hold onto their slim Senate majority in a presidential election year.

“What we did in 2014 was we didn’t have more Christine O’Donnell’s, Sharron Angles, Richard Mourdocks or Todd Akins,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMuslim DNC speaker challenges GOP leaders to call Trump out Peter Thiel does not make the GOP pro-gay Reid: Trump is a 'hateful con man' MORE (R-Ky.) said late last year. “The people that were nominated were electable. That will happen again in 2016. We will not nominate anybody for the United States Senate on the Republican side who’s not appealing to a general-election audience.”

Some strategists question Angle’s ability to receive support from those same outside groups that helped propel her in 2010 and say that without similar resources, she doesn’t pose a threat to Heck in the primary.

“If indeed she has no outside help, then this is nothing more than an irritant,” said Brian Seitchik, campaign manager for Danny Tarkanian when he ran against Angle in 2010. 

Still, Republicans aren’t completely counting Angle out and note she is well-known in the state. They also credit her ability to attract media attention.

“I do think it hurts Joe, but again, it’s not a devastating day,” a longtime conservative strategist said. “This is not going to be Joe fighting for his life, but he is going to have to keep an eye on it and spend some resources and time he wouldn’t otherwise spend to make sure he wins that primary.”

Heck’s campaign declined to comment on Angle’s
entrance into the race.

Angle, who is president of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, acknowledged the uphill battle she faces.

“None of this has been easy, and it never will be, it takes someone willing to fight in the face of unimaginable odds,” Angle said in a statement to The Hill. “I will strongly challenge my opponents on these issues, as I will challenge those in Washington DC on them.”

But Cleta Mitchell, Angle’s 2010 campaign attorney, who’s not involved in her 2016 campaign, said that the former state assemblywoman shouldn’t be taken “lightly” in the GOP primary.

“If Joe Heck has any bad votes on key issues of concern to conservatives and he is able to be painted as being part of the D.C. establishment, this is not a great year for that sort of candidate.”

But some say the Tea Party firebrand could reaffirm the GOP congressman as more of a moderate and that would help him in a general election

“It does reinforce the narrative about Joe Heck as a center-right candidate, but one that is palatable to kind of that suburban swing voter in a way that Sharron Angle never would be able to be,” the strategist said.

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