The Republican Party's path to winning Harry Reid's Senate seat became more complicated Friday when Sharron Angle -- the tea party favorite who won the GOP's 2010 nomination -- unexpectedly decided to run for the Nevada post.
Angle spent months talking about becoming a challenger for the Republican nomination, but few in Nevada or Washington knew whether to take her seriously.
She has praised Donald Trump's bid for the presidency , and her candidacy could test whether the GOP presidential front-runner's popularity in Nevada -- he easily won the state's caucuses in February -- translates down the ballot.
Angle's presence in a Republican primary is also a significant obstacle for Rep. Joe Heck, the establishment favorite who was expected to win the party's Senate nomination as an effectively unchallenged candidate.
Now, instead of preparing for a tough open-seat general election, the congressman from suburban Las Vegas must spend the next three months defending his conservative credentials ahead of the state's June 14 primary.
Heck's fundraising, institutional support, and position as a congressman mean that he likely remains a strong favorite. But for a lawmaker who has made a career of placating both conservative activists and Hispanic voters on sensitive issues, especially on immigration, tacking right in a primary could cost him dearly in the fall.
Nevada is widely considered the Republican Party's best opportunity to pick up a Democratic-controlled Senate seat this year, and Heck -- a doctor and brigadier general in the Army Reserve -- is arguably the Senate GOP's best recruit of the cycle. He won his swing-district House seat in suburban Las Vegas in 2010, and ably defended it against stiff Democratic challenges since.
The Democratic Party is expected to nominate Catherine Cortez Masto for the Senate race, a former Nevada attorney general who is trying to become the country's first Latina senator.
Angle won the GOP's nomination in 2010, taking on Reid in a high-profile contest that drew national attention. Despite that year's conservative wave and Reid's deep unpopularity in Nevada, she lost the race by five percentage points, 50 percent to 45 percent.
She was seen as a deeply ineffective candidate that year, infamously telling a gathering of young Latinos that they looked Asian and suggesting that "Second Amendment remedies" might be necessary to stop Congress.
Democrats celebrated news of Angle’s decision, saying that it would derail Heck’s candidacy before he even reached the general election.
"While these candidates engage in the inevitably divisive primary brawl, Catherine Cortez Masto will continue to earn the support of Nevadans eager for a U.S. senator who will grow the middle class, protect Social Security and pursue comprehensive immigration reform,” said Lauren Passalacqua, spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
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