Las Vegas, Nevada (CNN) - Nevada Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle just might be the Tea Party's biggest gamble yet. A staunch conservative with a history of making bold and sometimes controversial comments, Angle insists she's been taken out of context in her campaign to oust Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and told CNN in a rare interview, "I'll be a mainstream Senator."
A grandmother of 10 children who secured the backing of Tea Party leaders on her way to winning the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, Angle has been both praised and criticized for her views.
In past remarks during the campaign, Angle has said Social Security and Medicare should be phased out. She's also advocated the elimination of the Departments of Education and Energy, the EPA, and the IRS.
Angle established herself as an ardent conservative during her six-year tenure in the Nevada State Assembly. "Sharron Angle was the Tea Party before the Tea Party existed," Nevada political journalist Jon Ralston said of the Republican, adding she was a "far right" candidate.
While Angle's controversial stances have bolstered her standing with the Tea Party, they have provided fodder for Democrats, who perceive the 60-year-old Tea Party candidate a threat to one of Washington's most prominent Democrats. In response, Senator Reid has called his opponent "too extreme" in TV ads airing across the state, and even President Obama weighed in at a July event for Reid, saying, "[Angle] favors an approach that's even more extreme than the Republicans we've got in Washington. That's saying something."
When CNN caught up with Angle at one of her Las Vegas campaign stops, she complained some of her more controversial statements had been taken out of context. "As you speak, as we're conversationally speaking, sometimes when you pick out words, they're not the best words you could have used," she told CNN in a rare one-on-one interview. "When taken out of context, you can make anybody look like they don't know what they're talking about," she elaborated.
"It's a little hard to take out of context when they say they want to phase out Social Security," Reid responded to CNN. "Her words are what she is. My words are what I am. So I don't think you can run from what you say and what you do."
Angle has also made some contentious comments on friendly conservative talk radio programs, which have bolstered her detractors' views that she is an extremist.
In a January appearance on the Reno-based Bill Manders Show, Angle implied the purpose of the Second Amendment right to bear arms might be to keep the federal government in check. "I'm hoping that we're not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope that the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems," she told the radio host, generating a slew of questions about her intent.
When CNN asked about Angle's ominous-sounding warning, she laughed off the notion she was promoting an armed revolution. "Those are not the issues people are concerned about. They're concerned about our economy, our homes, our jobs. That's what people are concerned about," she said, not offering an explanation of her remarks.
CNN also asked Angle about her affirmation of the same conservative host's observation that there are "home-born, homegrown" enemies who are operating in Congress. "The larger focus of that conversation is what has happened domestically here and our country for the last 18 months," Angle said, pointing out that no names were mentioned during the conversation, and again avoiding the intent of her statement.
It's easy to see how Angle's staunch views appeal to the Tea Party, but even some of her fellow Nevada Republicans are wary that she is too conservative. In an interview with CNN affiliate KLAS, Reno Mayor Bob Cashell, who is a Republican from Angle's hometown, called Angle "an ultra-right winger" who he will not support in November. Another prominent Nevada Republican, former Congresswoman Barbara Vucanovich described Angle as "rigid" in her beliefs in an interview to the Las Vegas Review Journal. "She's a very difficult person. She's very positive in her own way, but when you're elected you have to work for everybody," Vucanovich told the newspaper.
But it's not just politicians who are concerned. In a poll released by the Las Vegas Review Journal on August 27th, a whopping 71% of Nevada Republicans admit they would prefer to see a different Republican candidate other than Sharron Angle take on Reid. Of those Republicans who voted for Angle in the primary election, 66% now say they'd like another nominee.
Reid fares better with his own party, but is still far from a perfect candidate in the eyes of Nevada voters, many of whom see the high-profile Democrat as a Washington, DC insider who brokered deals infamously known as the "Cornhusker Kickback" and "The Louisiana Purchase" to pass health care reform. "Harry Reid is the most negatively viewed person in this state and there is a hardened opposition to him. I think Sharron Angle could be arrested for a felony tomorrow and still get percent 40 percent of the vote," Ralston told CNN.
That explains why, despite Angle's controversial candidacy, polls show Nevada voters evenly split between the "extremist" challenger and the "establishment" senator. The high-profile race is considered a statistical dead heat where, even in the gambling capital of the world, there is no odds-on favorite, making it a bellwether of just how influential the Tea Party might be in future elections.