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Aiming to defeat Democrat Harry Reid, the GOP's Sharron Angle glad-hands at a Reno gun show

August 12, 2010 |  5:51 am

The recent Crossroads of the West Gun Show in Reno was essentially a well-armed swap meet, with tables shilling semiautomatic pistols, holsters, camouflage baby clothes and T-shirts asking, “Got Bullets?” (That was somewhat a rhetorical question – one business touted itself as “Your 1-Stop Assault Shop.”)

Volunteers for Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle sat next to a table of T-shirts urging voters to “Ready, Aim, Fire” her opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as well as fellow party leaders, including President Obama. The vendor, Dave Hart, was not affiliated with Angle's campaign.

"I’m going to be following you like a bad dream," Hart, a 54-year-old Californian, told Angle. Reid “is very powerful. He’s not what this country needs, and we need you to make sure he doesn’t continue down this path.”

It was difficult to hear Angle’s response over the stun-gun demonstrations. She asked for money.

I watched the 61-year-old Angle mingle with the faithful for an article in Thursday’s print paper about her slow-starting campaign against Reid. Like many Western politicians, Reid is pro-gun enough that some have speculated he might win the endorsement of the NRA.

But Angle, who has talked of fed-up voters resorting to “2nd Amendment remedies” should Congress not change hands, is pictured in her campaign newsletter aiming a Smith and Wesson. When her ...

... husband, Ted, asked a group of attendees if they had questions regarding her views on firearms, none needed to ask.

“She’s 2nd Amendment all the way!” shouted her 72-year-old friend, Sally Shaw of Reno.

In traditionally low-turnout midterm elections, rallying the base is key and, on this afternoon, Angle exuded a comfort level unseen since her primary victory. In her entire political career, Angle has never needed to appeal to a statewide general electorate. Judging by her warm demeanor and lack of entourage, the gun show felt familiar.

A petite grandmother with a reddish bob, Angle worked the Reno convention center in a blue-green pantsuit and open-toed heels. No firearm was visible. The crowd was overwhelmingly friendly, and the scene far removed from the Washington Beltway. 

Prohibited items: loaded firearms, loose ammunition, black powder and “items glorifying Nazism,” according to the Crossroads website. “Laser scopes may only be operated by vendors and only pointed at the ceiling.”

Over a half-hour, Angle thanked two men for their “entrepreneurial spirit” -- they were selling, essentially, day planners-cum-weapon carriers. One supporter handed Angle hot sauce. Another asked, hopefully, if she was single.

Angle laughed, her husband trailing behind her with a stack of donation envelopes.

A voter of mixed-race descent complained that he was sick of being asked whether he’s African American. “As our senator, make me an American, please,” he said, using language often heard at “tea party” rallies.

“I just did,” Angle said, to bystanders’ cheers.

Despite their affection, Angle’s supporters were clearly concerned about the battering she’d taken in Reid's campaign ads, which capitalized on her more controversial statements, portraying her as “just too extreme.” (The latest ad, released Wednesday, goes after Angle’s “2nd Amendment remedies” comment. )

The race, once a likely Republican win, is now considered a tossup.

Stan Duran told Angle she needed to punch back hard. “Don’t you have a research staff that could go through every single thing he’s ever done?” the Reno man asked, and, until recently, the answer would have been no. But Duran didn’t help much, offering a convoluted theory involving Reid, the “milk lobby” and starving babies. Angle’s smile remained polite.

Reid has also attacked Angle on Social Security. Although she talked about phasing out the program during the primary, she has since softened her stance. After she made her way to a microphone to announce her presence – to applause – a throng of attendees crowded her to weigh in.

“I’m concerned about those lies about Social Security,” one man said.

“Newspapers are going broke because they lie!” interjected a woman.

Angle reassured them that her campaign was running its own TV ads hammering Reid on the dismal economy. “We’re going after him more,” she vowed.

“Are you going to have someone on the phone saying, 'Hey, I heard this, what’s the truth?” the man shot back.The polite smile returned.

As Angle and her husband left the gun show, reporters tried to sneak in some questions. Angle reiterated her position on Social Security -- that younger workers should “personalize” their retirement accounts -- and that Washington’s role was only to create a job-friendly climate, not the jobs themselves.

Then, because Angle had been campaigning at a gun show, I asked for an explanation of the meaning of “2nd Amendment remedies.” The polite smile, but no answer.

-- Ashley Powers

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