Is Sharron Angle the next Rand Paul?

Nevada is one of the natural homes of Tea Party activism.  Even before the era of Hope and Change, Nevadan had a well-earned reputation for independence and a somewhat libertarian bent; Ron Paul did better in Nevada than anywhere else in last year’s presidential primaries.  The rise of a Tea Party candidate in the polls for the chance to run against Harry Reid comes as no great shock, but as Jim Geraghty notes in his extensive look at Sharron Angle, some of her positions might:

For a long while, the GOP primary looked like a two-candidate race between former state-party chair Sue Lowden and businessman Danny Tarkanian. But then one of the groups claiming to represent the national tea-party movement, Tea Party Express, endorsed former state assemblywoman Sharron Angle, and she has rocketed from 5 percent to 25 percent in the Mason-Dixon poll, just 5 percent behind frontrunner Lowden.

So what will we learn — and see spotlighted — about Sharron Angle if she wins the primary?

If the Tea Party tends towards the libertarian, and Nevada tends toward the libertarian, then there may well be some shock with Angle after all:

In a 2005 interview, while discussing the issue of legalizing marijuana, she appeared to suggest that she grudgingly tolerates the legality of alcohol: “I would tell you that I have the same feelings about legalizing marijuana, not medical marijuana, but just legalizing marijuana. I feel the same about legalizing alcohol. . . . The effect on society is so great that I’m just not a real proponent of legalizing any drug or encouraging any drug abuse. . . . I’m elected by the people to protect, and I think that law should protect.” Her spokesman vehemently denies that Angle is a prohibitionist, but one can imagine how that comment could get construed by Nevada restaurant, casino, and bar workers in a heated Senate campaign.

And if that sits well with those who espouse traditional values, then Angle’s idea of prison reform will be an eye-opener:

Angle’s past enthusiasm for a prison drug-treatment program could be interpreted as a genuine willingness to look outside the box for ways to help some of society’s most desperate members overcome addiction. Yet it’s not too hard for the program to be explained in a manner that would make most tea-party activists recoil. It was described in media accounts as “sauna and massage” treatments; the candidate characterizes it as more comparable to a sweat lodge and pain relief. It was developed in part based on concepts from Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and was estimated to cost roughly $15,000 per inmate. Angle tried to organize a trip to Ensenada prison in Mexico to see the program in action; the cost of the trip was to have been covered by a Scientologist. The trip was ultimately canceled. (Angle is a Southern Baptist, not a Scientologist.)

There is nothing wrong with seeking out-of-the-box solutions to serious problems.  In fact, that’s a good reason for primaries — to discuss and debate different approaches to public policy.  However, that also carries risk, and not just in a primary.  If Angle does win the nomination, Geraghty predicts “cartwheels” by Reid, who will suddenly have plenty of ways to distract Nevadans from the fact that Reid has become a water carrier for Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama, not a conservative, independent voice representing Nevadans.

If Nevada Republicans truly think Angle best represents them in a Senate race, then they should nominate her for the contest.  They should do so with their eyes wide open, however, and her record should be thoroughly vetted, as should Sue Lowden’s and Danny Tarkanian’s.  We certainly know that the winner will undergo that process in the general election, thanks to Reid’s $25 million war chest.  Geraghty gives us a sneak peek at the issues a Reid-Angle contest will raise, and be sure to read it all.