LAS VEGAS — Sharron Angle's tea party revolution came up short in her bid to oust Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but her political career appears far from over.
The Nevada Republican who became a national symbol of grassroots conservatism during the midterm elections didn't act like a politician ready to retire after her loss. Angle urged her followers to keep up the fight and alluded to a return to politics.
"We the people have been awakened over the last 20 months," she told hundreds of supporters. "We did not awaken to go back to sleep."
Angle will have plenty of opportunities for a political encore.
Nevada will hold another U.S. Senate race in 2012 when a wounded John Ensign will be up for re-election. The Republican is under federal investigation following an extramarital affair with the wife of his employee and longtime friend.
Congress could be another option. Or Angle could seek a return to the state Legislature.
"She has lost races before," said Heidi Harris, a conservative radio show host who rallied for Angle during the election. "She is not going to vanish."
Whatever she decides, tea party enthusiasts said their love for Angle remains strong.
"She has been a fighter on these issues long before anyone outside of Nevada ever heard her name," said Mike Connolly, spokesman for Club for Growth, a conservative Washington group that has helped Angle in previous campaigns. "Her celebrity may be new, but her convictions and principles are not."
But Angle's next move could be hindered by some of the same factors that led to her loss in a year when Republicans toppled other Democratic giants across the country.
The Reno grandmother's penchant for haphazard remarks and her unconventional campaign tactics earned ridicule and condemnation — and allowed Reid to paint her as a radical with extreme views on rape victims, Social Security and Hispanics.
Angle, a longtime conservative voice in rural Nevada, trounced the GOP's preferred candidate in the Republican primary, then headed for cover as Reid attacked his new target in a barrage of TV spots that used her words against her.
She eventually emerged prepared to wage an even battle. She held her own against Reid for the rest of the race, and in the one debate of the campaign, she appeared resolved and charismatic next to a frail and stoic Reid.
Since her defeat, Angle, 61, has remained off the radar. Angle's campaign did not return multiple requests for comment.
Angle appeared anything but defeated during her concession speech. An elated grin overtook her as she congratulated her supporters for fighting for freedom.
"We were able to inspire not only Nevadans, but a country," Angle said. "Think of this. In the last quarter, we raised $14.3 million. Eighty percent of that came from out of our state. That means that America was wanting, was desperate, to help us."
This was the third major loss in five years for Angle, who previously ran for the state Senate and the U.S. House, where her primary bid came up short by 421 votes. She has held or sought office dating back to 1992.
The Senate race likely earned her some new supporters and expanded her name recognition throughout the state and beyond. She was a guest speaker at conservative rallies and fundraisers in Utah and Washington during the campaign.
If Angle does return to the ballot, she might have to temper her ambition.
A successful statewide run would require her to remake her image as something other than the wild extremist label that Reid successfully tarred her with.
An Associated Press analysis of exit poll results from Tuesday's election showed Angle's base limited largely to white men, people over 65 years old, rural voters and fierce Reid foes. Reid triumphed among women, blacks, Asians, Hispanics and voters under the age of 44.
Angle also played a role in her own defeat by vilifying Hispanics, ignoring the advice of Washington insiders, shunning moderate Republican leaders and badmouthing government benefits like unemployment, veterans services and Social Security.4 comments on this story
She left lots of fodder for future opponents. She ran TV spots that showed Mexicans as gang members, told Hispanic students they looked Asian, mused about an armed revolt against Capitol Hill, blasted abortions in all cases and warned of a Muslim terrorist situation in a Texas city that no longer exists. She told a reporter she would only explain her policy positions after she was elected.
"Angle could win a primary again but could she win a statewide race? No," said Kenneth Fernandez, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "Once you have those things on record they are there and they are going to be used over and over again."
Some Nevada Republicans are also fuming that Angle's refusal to take advice from successful campaign strategists may have cost them their top prize.
"For a night that was so good for Republicans across the country it just didn't feel like a celebration in Nevada," said Robert Uithoven, a Nevada GOP political consultant. "Her races over the years have been typically reliant on grassroots, door-to-door campaigning and in a race of this magnitude you needed to have more than that."