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October 9, 2015

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Sharron Angle offers juice to Tea Party of Nevada opponent

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Scott Ashjian on Monday's 'Face to Face'

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Sharron Angle speaks during a Senate candidate forum for Angle and Sen. Harry Reid on Sept. 23 at Faith Lutheran High School.

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Jon Scott Ashjian

That Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle was caught on tape criticizing her own party while meeting last week with Tea Party of Nevada candidate Jon Scott Ashjian should surprise no one.

Reacting to Ashjian’s stated distrust of both major political parties, Angle agreed that many see little difference between Republicans and Democrats, according to a recording obtained by Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston.

“Republicans have lost their standards, they have lost their principles,” Angle said during the meeting in which she tried and failed to win an endorsement from Ashjian, who could siphon valuable votes from her. “In some ways it’s a good thing. It’s nice to get it out in the open that they never really have gone along with less taxes and less government.”

The 38-minute recording was quintessential Angle — she has made a career of challenging the Republican establishment and capitalized on voter anger toward both parties to win the GOP primary in June. Yet it was surprising that later in the conversation, Angle makes an overture to Ashjian that, if elected, she would use her influence for Ashjian’s benefit.

“That’s really all I can offer to you,” she says to Ashjian. “Whatever juice I have, you have as well. You want to see (U.S. Sen. Jim) DeMint, I have juice with DeMint. I go to D.C. and say ‘I want to see Jim DeMint,’ he’s right there for me.”

It was a rare, unscripted moment in a high-profile race — revealing at once Angle’s view of herself as outside the political establishment, and yet willing to traffic in political power in ways she has condemned the establishment and her opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for.

Allies of Reid pounced, splicing her past criticism of Reid for making “backroom deals” and with audio of Angle and her campaign supporters offering to help Ashjian. Even supporters of Angle criticized her for getting into a room with Ashjian, who told CNN that he had made the secret recording.

Debbie Landis, one of Nevada’s original grass-roots Tea Party organizers, was irate at both Ashjian, whom she despises, and Angle, whom she has endorsed.

“It’s an enormous shame for her to approach him like he is a credible threat when he’s already been spoken out against by every grass-roots leader in the state,” Landis said. “I don’t know what she hoped to accomplish. I’m very distressed at the credibility that lying, duplicitous fraud has right now.”

“That’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Dan Burdish, a Republican operative who advised Angle’s primary opponent Sue Lowden. “Why in the world would she go out and meet with somebody who is polling at 1 percent?”

Ashjian’s critics have decried him as an opportunist who has usurped the Tea Party brand for personal gain. They have sought to discredit the first-time candidate and get his name erased from the ballot. (Before he formed the Tea Party of Nevada, longtime Nevada activists involved in the amorphous movement said they had never heard of him.)

Ashjian, who would conceivably pull votes from Angle, benefiting Reid in the tight race, has received 1 percent in most polls.

But Angle’s meeting with Ashjian, and Ashjian’s decision to record and release a tape of the meeting, has suddenly launched him into the national spotlight. National news networks are covering him as a legitimate threat to Angle’s effort to unseat Reid.

Ashjian could not be reached for comment Monday.

The meeting was brokered by Richard Ziser, a conservative activist who lost to Reid in 2004.

According to the tape, Angle asked Ashjian to endorse her, saying she doesn’t know if she can win with Ashjian on the ballot.

Ashjian largely rebuffs her requests, saying at the end of the meeting that he would have to think about it. For an endorsement, he said he wanted an apology from the Tea Party Express and others who have criticized him.

Angle said she couldn’t communicate with the independent groups until after the election.

Conservative activist Chuck Muth, who supported Lowden in the primary, said that Angle’s anti-establishment rhetoric will play well. But, he said, “There’s a fine line a candidate has to walk.”

Angle needs the organizational and institutional support of some of the national groups that she disparages in the recording. After her primary victory “she needed the party establishment to come in and give her a chance. If the national party hadn’t done that, she would have been dead a long time ago.”

In her meeting with Ashjian, Angle said she had national Republicans right where she wanted them. “This is such a national race that if they don’t play, they look like idiots. So really, we’ve got them in a box,” she said.

Nevada Republican Chairman Mark Amodei took little umbrage with Angle’s remarks, agreeing that his own party has had its faults. He said it’s more important that voters trust Angle to be a better representative going forward.

“Listen, the history is what it is,” Amodei said. “There’s things I disagreed with that George W. Bush did. I think ... there’s plenty of room for discontentment. And that all gets magnified by an economy that’s where it’s at now.”

Using a David-and-Goliath metaphor, Angle says she has been trying to shrug off the armor that national Republicans keep trying to load her down with. “I’m trying to get them to leave me alone long enough to where I can get my slingshot and go after this guy,” she says of Reid.

But Muth stressed Angle will need some of that armor.

“David and Goliath is a biblical story, it’s not reality,” he said. “There’s a fine line between being anti-establishment and still taking the establishment’s help.”

Angle spokeswoman Ciara Mathews said she had no information on why Angle decided to accept the meeting. She pointed to an earlier campaign statement.

“Sharron expressed what many working families in Nevada and across the country are feeling,” the statement says. “They are angry with Harry Reid, they are angry with Washington, D.C., and they want blunt, plain-spoken leaders who are willing to shake things up. Sharron represents the interests of Nevada, not the interests of Washington, D.C., like Harry Reid does, and that’s why she is going to win.”

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