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Sharron Angle, the tea party conservative from Nevada, urged Utahns of all stripes to help her "take out" the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate: Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Quickly editing her words to say she wanted to "defeat" Reid in the November election, Angle's remark inspired laughter from an audience that welcomed her broader message that Americans want their government to return to the principles of the U.S. Constitution, to cut spending and to cut the deficit. She also took a sidelong swipe at her Democratic opponent's charge that she is extreme by describing the grass-roots movement she represents.
"This is mainstream America," she said, describing a call to action that has drawn so many to the tea party. "This [movement] is folks that really understand we've got to get up off our big, fat sofas and do something. We're not sure what it is, but we've heard the call" to participate.
Angle was the closing speaker at a daylong conference at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City hosted by a new coalition of conservatives called Utah United. Billed as "Utah's Freedom Conference: Reclaiming Our Constitutional Heritage," it featured workshops on topics that ranged from making use of social media to protecting state sovereignty.
Sponsors included the John Birch Society, the Eagle Forum, the National Center for Constitutional Studies and the Utah Farm Bureau. GOP candidates with a presence included Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller, 2nd Congressional District hopeful Morgan Philpot and Ken Ivory, who is running for a state House seat in West Jordan.
Utah state Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, promised to make the conference an annual event. He called Saturday's gathering of about 400 "the beginning of unity of all the grass-roots organizations."
"The best thing about this conference by far," he said in an interview, "is that it is not just another rally. People have been educated here. They've learned, and they've gotten informed."
In his introduction to Angle, Wimmer, a founder of the conservative Patrick Henry Caucus at the Utah Legislature, also sounded a call to action.
"Let us move forward with courage," he told the group. "Let us move forward with strength. Let us move knowing that the King of Kings is on our side, that God will bless our actions as we stand up for truth and for His nation."
A former GOP member of the Nevada Assembly, Angle has the backing of the Tea Party Express, Eagle Forum leader Phyllis Schlaffly and the Club for Growth, a conservative group credited with aiding the ouster of incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, in last spring's GOP primary.
Angle triggered controversy last summer for saying that Bennett had "outlived his usefulness" and no longer represented the mainstream, which was her response after the senator publicly doubted Angle would defeat Reid. And now, attorney Mike Lee is the Republican candidate for Bennett's seat also with the backing of the Club for Growth.
Reid spokesman Jon Summers said in an e-mail Saturday that Angle was "trolling for support anywhere she can get it because she's not getting it from Nevadans."
"While she's seeking every out-of-state endorsement she can get, Sen. Reid has the support of more than 200 Nevada Republican leaders as well as law enforcement and business leaders, just to name a few," Summers wrote.
"Nevadans are rejecting Sharron Angle because of her extreme agenda to kill Social Security, privatize the Veterans Administration and ship 77,000 tons of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, just outside of Las Vegas."
Angle also was set Saturday to participate in a state Capitol rally by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a Tucson-based group that opposes Medicare. The association's rally was part of the group's 67th annual meeting, held in Salt Lake City this week, but Angle headed back home before addressing the crowd, according to Utah's Freedom Conference spokeswoman Lee Rech.
Rech pointed out that Angle's "take out" comment Saturday came at the end of a long day when she meant to say that she sought help to "retire" Reid. "It was just a slip," she said.
Still, Angle's point was clear to the crowd, who might not have been aware of the controversy she sparked when she made a similar remark in June, a reference some heard as a call to violence, which she later retracted.
"In Nevada, we understand we have the opportunity to take out to defeat," she said Saturday, laughing and inspiring a laugh from the crowd. "I really have had to find a whole new vocabulary since the primaries."
She concluded: "The first thing we need to do is to defeat Harry Reid. That defeat will send a shock wave through Congress. It will let them know that this train is coming. They can either get on board or get run over by it."
Happiness Anne Peterson, a young GOP activist, called Angle "the big draw" for the conference and a sign of the national power of the tea party movement. "I think Utahns are waking up," she said.
Carlton Bowen, of American Fork, praised the conference and called it a fitting way to celebrate Constitution Week.
"It gave me a lot of knowledge I didn't have before," he said. "And I expect to share that with my neighbors and with my friends."