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January 22, 2018

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jon ralston:

Road to the Senate in 2012 has same Angle as 2010

Sharron Angle has such magical powers that she may create not one, but two U.S. senators.

In 2010, she transmogrified Harry Reid from political corpse to decisive winner. But well before that miraculous reanimation, in 2006, Angle took a moderate Republican named Dean Heller and turned him into a Tea Partyer favored to join Reid in the Club of 100.

Angle, fueled by another club’s (the conservative Club for Growth) million dollars, came within 421 votes of having the title Heller now has. That near-death experience at Angle’s hands caused a Heller metamorphosis, as he awoke one day to find himself, after a career as a moderate assemblyman and anti-establishment secretary of state, as a born-again member of the right-wing religion.

And can he ever preach it. With his ready smile, talking-points mastery and campaigning fervor, Heller arrives in the Senate race as the clear, if not prohibitive favorite, after his Angle-motivated conversion in 2006.

And if you don’t believe me, look how maniacally the national Democrats are trying to undermine his status with news releases pointing out he lost Washoe County to Jill Derby in 2008 and producing a video ready for release Tuesday that talked about his job-killing votes, with a frothing stretch on Yucca Mountain.

Are the Democrats scared of Heller? They’d be crazy not to be.

It’s impressive how quickly the Republicans revved up the Anointment Express for Heller, with endorsements from the state’s top GOP officials — Gov. Brian Sandoval and Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki. Still, this Stay-Out-Sharron campaign would be fruitless if she intends to run, which seems doubtful.

Beyond the Almighty, I’m not sure whose counsel Angle keeps, but as I have said before, she can’t win a statewide race and would be foolish to challenge Heller. Recent polling shows 40 percent or so of Republicans have an unfavorable view of her, meaning she needs some rehabilitation and, probably, a multicandidate field.

Right now, that would appear to be in Heller’s congressional seat, where Krolicki, state GOP Chairman Mark Amodei, ex-USS Cole Commander Kirk Lippold and others are lurking.

Democratic strategists have to be praying, too, that Angle will get in. (Hey, maybe they can get that prank phone caller who fooled Scott Walker and get him to pretend to be God and call Angle …)

Yes, Heller is no juggernaut and even if the GOP gets its act together, the Democratic turnout machine will be formidable in a presidential year. But Team Heller knows a little about anointments — his friend, Pete Ernaut, and manager Mike Slanker are old Ensign hands and Ernaut helped clear the decks for Kenny Guinn in 1998. (A fine book on that prototypical Nevada race called “The Anointed One” sold millions of copies.)

Heller’s new taste for tea could hurt him in a general election and help elect a Democrat — more evidence of Angle’s pivotal role, whether she pushes him right again in 2012 or her initial 2006 jolt is responsible. But this is not Harry Reid, with the best campaign team in America, vs. a gaffe-prone Tea Partyer who couldn’t be saved by D.C. pros and nearly $30 million. This is a solid Republican with a seasoned, tough campaign team.

And it may be the Democrats who have the primary woes.

Wealthy lawyer Byron Georgiou is in the race and apparently will not be deterred, saying Tuesday on KNPR that the best political talent in the country is “competing” to be on his team. He derided “career politicians,” including Rep. Shelley Berkley, whom he risibly described as “a friend.” But, he added, “She, too, is part of the Washington problem.”

For the Democrats, Georgiou becomes a Nevada problem, especially if, as some fear, he spends millions of dollars. And that is music to Team Heller’s ears.

I think Berkley is close to a decision, but she remains torn. I still think the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee prefers Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto for her ability to harness Hispanic votes and money. But the more people tell Berkley she can’t do something …

It would be overly cynical to suggest Meddler-in-Chief Reid would actually prefer Heller over Berkley — or anyone else — because he likes having a GOP foil. Harry Ensign becomes Harry Heller? But this cycle is different because he may need a Nevada Democrat to maintain his title, the one Angle helped him keep.

And Angle will have an effect in 2012, no matter what she does. One observer asked Tuesday if I thought Heller, who claimed he welcomed her to the race, was afraid of Angle.

My answer: He’d be crazy not to be.

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