"She's running the worst campaign in the country, and she could still win."
That was James Carville talking about Nevada Republican Sharron Angle, previously a virtual unknown, who is giving Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a run for his political life. Carville was trying to divert attention from the fact that Harry Reid has been tied in his fight against Angle, even though Reid's outspent her and has a well-established name.
The name's a large part of his problem, though.
"They have fallen out of love," Angle tells me about Nevada voters' not-that-into-you relationship with Reid. She believes they "hold Harry Reid personally responsible for the policies coming out of Washington, D.C."
There is 14 percent unemployment in the state of Nevada. On the campaign trail, Angle says, people ask her about the economy. They ask, "'How can we get this turned around?'" Angle says. "They're upset with the spending. They're upset with the debt ..."
"Folks like me who aren't really looking for a job," Angle tells me, "we have children and grandchildren who are in the workforce. And when we call and ask, 'How are you doing?' what we really mean is 'Do you still have your job and can you still make your mortgage payment?'"
In this climate, Reid celebrating "only 36,000" lost jobs in America as "really good" -- as he did in response to unemployment numbers in March -- doesn't play all that well. You don't have to be Reid's opponent to reject his spin on his job performance: "My role as majority leader has been very, very good for Nevada," he said in an interview last summer. "I control what goes in and out of the Senate, and as a result of that Nevada's gotten far more than its share."
The Las Vegas Review-Journal ran an article last year that bluntly contradicts Reid's sunny portrayal: "Nevada ... is getting less help from the federal government than most other states on a per person basis. In total stimulus funds, the state has a per capita rank of 50th out of 51 (that's 50 states plus Washington, D.C.); in education funding, it's 51st; in transportation, it's 48th; and in Medicaid funds, it's 47th."
The final accounting may just show Reid paying the price for failed leadership.
It's the worst-kept secret of American politics that Angle is not the most polished candidate of the 2010 midterm elections. She is ridiculed not just by influential Democrats like Carville, but dismissed by mainstream reporters for making what have been deemed "a lot of outlandish, absurd comments." More politically experienced Republicans have been known to roll their eyes or otherwise wish for a more conventional candidate. But she speaks with a grandmotherly love about her country, her state and service to the same. As senator, she tells me, "I don't want to stay out of state very long, and that's because it's important to me to meet with the constituents. I listen and I'm responsive. They know that from my record in the state legislature. I want to be responsive."
About the final weeks of the race, Angle says: "We know that my strength has always been grassroots. When I am able to talk to people face to face, they like me. They know that I am one of them."
Grassroots, of course, is what the tea party in its purest form is about. Listening to Angle it's hard not to realize that the ultimate in tea-party victories on Election Day would be in Nevada.
Which is exactly why certain parties are going to so much effort to try to tear her down. As Jarrod Agen, communications director for the Angle campaign tells me, in response to Carville's jab: "The incumbent majority leader with unlimited resources is locked in a dead heat after spending millions attacking Sharron Angle, and he wants to criticize our campaign? We must be doing something right if a grandmother from Reno is tied with the second-most powerful man in Washington, D.C."
Carville did have something quite right. Angle doesn't have to run an impeccable campaign in order to defeat Reid. As Doug Schoen, another Democrat and co-author of the tea-party analysis "Mad as Hell" puts it: "The movement that is backing Angle is more potent electorally at this point than is the mainstream Democratic Party -- or the Republicans for that matter."
Angle is a walking success story already, and it bodes well for the movement that she's so prominent a part of. The tea party is about a "paradigm shift," Anne Sorock of the tea-infused Sam Adams Alliance asserts. Nevada's David and Goliath story vividly paints the picture of just such a change. The colors of the picture will only get bolder if the Senate majority leader is, in fact, defeated.