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.
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