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September 2, 2015

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Sharron Angle’s valuable campaign donor list keeps her in political game

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Sharron Angle gets a hug from volunteer Dudley Winn after delivering her concession speech at the Republicans’ election-night party early Wednesday at the Venetian.

Election 2010 - Republican Party

Sharron Angle arrives with her husband, Ted, to give her concession speech at the Republicans' election-night party early Wednesday at the Venetian. Launch slideshow »

Sharron Angle’s victory in the GOP Senate primary gave the former state legislator a Sarah Palin-like moment — she went from near obscurity to instant political celebrity. And she parlayed her status as The One Who Could Take Out Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid into a huge campaign war chest, racking up a storied $14 million to spend on her ultimately failed bid to unseat the Republican Party’s top target.

Unlike Palin, Angle didn’t dazzle on the campaign trail or manufacture a media persona. Yet while it’s unlikely we will see Angle undertake a rock star-style speaking tour, that doesn’t mean she won’t maintain a certain appeal nationally. She does, after all, hold a valuable asset — a list of nearly 200,000 small-donor conservatives, which could give her considerable political cachet in the next election cycle.

“Absolutely, I could see a national campaign wanting to access those donors,” Republican strategist Robert Uithoven said. “Not too long ago, raising $14 million in a quarter was big for a presidential campaign. Whether they would want to use her name as they communicate with those donors, I don’t know.”

That appears to be the crux of Angle’s future: Her most valuable commodity may not be her name.

Angle’s future in the political arena has been the subject of much speculation. And rightly so. Her improbable ascent in retrospect might not be so improbable. While not always successful, she has demonstrated an ability to read the shifting winds of conservative politics. First with pornography in Winnemucca and later with rising property taxes in Washoe County, Angle has had a knack for becoming the face of the conservative fight of the moment.

She has been running for office in Nevada since the early 1990s, coming within inches of significant electoral victories but repeatedly falling short.

As with past defeats, few expect her loss in the U.S. Senate race to drive her out of politics.

“Absolutely not,” said state Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Reno, who has long been an Angle ally in conservative fights. “She’s going to stay involved. She’s got the desire to make some changes. When you run for an office like that, you become well-known nationwide and a lot of possibilities open up to you.”

Gustavson said he doesn’t know what she will pursue next. “I can’t read her mind,” he said.

A spokesman for Angle said she wasn’t available for an interview for this story, and he didn’t respond to follow up questions about her plans.

Rather than open up opportunities of a lifetime, however, Angle’s brief time in the national spotlight may have done more damage to her image than good.

In 2008, Palin emerged from her failed campaign on the Republican presidential ticket not as the reason for the loss but the reason the race was suddenly infused with a conservative energy that the campaign of U.S. Sen. John McCain had lacked.

Angle, on the other hand, becomes known as the candidate who let Reid escape when conditions were ideal for Republicans to oust the Democratic leader.

“A lot of Republicans just are furious that they didn’t win Nevada,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report. “It was an easy target and they lost. And she’s the reason they didn’t win.”

When Angle stepped into the national spotlight, she also stepped into the ring with Reid, who had his own war chest to spend defining her as the scary, extreme candidate who couldn’t be trusted in office. After Reid’s $20 million effort, voters across the state are left with that impression of Angle.

“I think she’s damaged statewide, but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t win a Republican seat,” Uithoven said.

Many speculate she could challenge a weakened U.S. Sen. John Ensign in 2012, which might be difficult given her new reputation. Or, she could pursue the 2nd Congressional District seat if U.S. Rep. Dean Heller elects to run for higher office. Or, she could make another run for the state Legislature.

But then there’s that list of donors.

The true value of Angle’s donor list remains a bit of a mystery. She could create a political action committee to support her own brand of conservative candidates across the country, similar to Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina. Perhaps she could crown Gun Totin’ Grannies, like Palin has Mama Grizzlies. Or she could simply rent it out to presidential contenders who stumped for her in the closing days of the race.

If she plays it right, Angle’s list could allow her to avoid dealing with her image problems and become a behind-the-scenes money broker of the conservative movement.

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