In a secretly taped recording, Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle badmouths the GOP establishment and wheedles a minor-party candidate to support her campaign, offering help opening doors in Washington if she's elected.
The roughly made recording offers an unvarnished look into back-room politics, with tea party favorite Angle alternately nudging and cajoling candidate Scott Ashjian, whose support could be crucial in her bid to oust Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"I'm not sure you can win and I'm not sure I can win if you're hurting my chance, and that's the part that scares me," Angle says on the recording obtained by the Las Vegas Sun newspaper.
Angle is a tea party favorite with a history of breaking from the GOP ranks -- in the state Senate, she was known for casting lone, dissenting votes on bills. She defeated the party's preferred candidate, Sue Lowden, in a come-from-behind victory in the June primary.
At one point she laments that the GOP leadership has "lost their standards, they've lost their principles." She refers derisively to "that good old boy thing" and depicts herself as an underdog David fighting Goliath -- the constricting machinery of the national party. She tells Ashjian she wants the GOP leadership "to leave me alone," confident she knows how to defeat Reid.
Ashjian says that since 2001, he has considered Democrats and the GOP interchangeable.
"They are all thieves," he says. Angle adds, "It's really been since 1991."
She later assures him she can use her "juice" to arrange meetings with GOP leaders, including South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Apparently unimpressed, Ashjian replies he can make those calls on his own. He never gives Angle his blessing, though he says he likes her and points out they share conservative values.
Angle's campaign did not dispute the tape's authenticity and said she was expressing the frustrations experienced by Nevada working families who want "blunt, plainspoken leaders who are willing to shake things up."
Reid's campaign said the recording shows Angle is attempting to "peddle her access" for political gain.
Ashjian did not return calls seeking comment.
The newspaper did not disclose the source of the tape; in an interview, Ashjian told MSNBC's "Hardball" he taped the meeting for what he called "self-protection" by concealing a recorder in his pocket.
It surfaced at an awkward time for Angle -- the political arm of the Senate GOP is holding a fundraiser for her Wednesday in Washington.
Ashjian is the nominee of the Tea Party of Nevada, a shadowy group formed this year that has been denounced by local tea party leaders. A lawsuit sought to knock him off the ballot.
The fear for Angle in the dead-heat race with Reid is that Ashjian will lure tea party support away from her. There are several minor-party candidates on the ballot -- a recent poll showed Ashjian with just 1 percent support -- and Nevada voters can also choose "none of these candidates."
The disclosure of the tape has left the small political party in confusion.
Its chairman, Dr. Syd James, is considering resigning and endorsing Angle because he's outraged over the secret taping, said the doctor's longtime friend, Ron Futrell. According to Futrell, James arranged the meeting between Angle and Ashjian.
On the tape, Ashjian complains his reputation has been unjustly damaged in the campaign. He grumbles about the Tea Party Express, a national political committee that ran ads earlier this year questioning his credentials and supporting Angle.
Disclosures of Angle's closed-door dealings with Ashjian could tarnish her image as a conservative outsider who wants to upend Washington -- she sometimes refers to the Democratic incumbent as "let's make a deal" Reid. But her lacerating comments about the GOP also speak to her maverick credentials, which could be appealing to some independent voters while turning off GOP loyalists.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, political scientist Ted G. Jelen said Angle's comments might dampen enthusiasm for her, since the privately recorded talks make her sound like a conventional politician maneuvering outside public view.
Reid is known for his ability to cut deals in Congress, and "Sharron's claim to the Senate seat is that she is not Harry Reid," Jelen said.
On the tape, Ashjian makes a spray of allegations -- he says he's been physically threatened, has been followed, had to hire a private security service and had his phone tapped.