LAS VEGAS — The chairman of the Tea Party of Nevada resigned Tuesday after a recording was made public capturing Republican Sharron Angle badmouthing GOP leaders during a meeting with the shadowy group's U.S. Senate candidate.
The exit of chairman Syd James is another blow to the candidacy of Tea Party of Nevada nominee Scott Ashjian, who has been denounced by state tea party leaders who say he has no connection to the movement that advocates limited government and tightfisted public spending.
In a statement, James said he was endorsing Angle, whose uneasy relations with national Republicans were laid bare in the tape, which Ashjian recorded secretly and later released to the Las Vegas Sun newspaper.
James said he arranged the meeting to see if Ashjian would consider withdrawing from the race and backing Angle, who is trying to oust Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"I gave the Angle campaign my word that this was to be a private meeting and not tape recorded. I feel my personal integrity and honor was violated when Scott taped what was to be a private conversation and then made it public," James said in a statement.
"I can understand why the Angle campaign feels that they were double-crossed. The Angle campaign trusted me and that trust was violated," James added.
Angle has the support of national and local tea party groups, but Ashjian's candidacy threatened to drain votes away from her, which would help Reid in a close race. 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."
In the recording Angle tells Ashjian, "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." She laments that the GOP leaders have "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.
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. He declines to support her.
It's unclear who will succeed James as the leader of the obscure party that has done little fundraising or organizing so far and has been blasted by Republicans as a Democratic plant.
The recording surfaced at a potentially awkward time for Angle – the political arm of the Senate GOP is holding several fundraisers for her Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington.
A spokesman for John Cornyn, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the group will continue to help Angle build her war chest.
"We continue to have a great relationship with Sharron and her campaign," spokesman Brian Walsh said.
Kirsten Chadwick, a Republican lobbyist and former White House aide under President George W. Bush who is helping the GOP elect women candidates, was unmoved when told of the recording flap.
"I honestly hadn't heard of it," she said.
Las Vegas tea party volunteer Joyce Burnett said the meeting with Ashjian "might not have been the smartest move."
"If I were sitting across the table from her, I might say, 'Boy, what were you thinking with that?'" said Burnett, who hosted a house party for Angle in August.
But Burnett said Angle's attempted dealmaking had not dampened her support.
"There is always going to be a certain give and take," Burnett said. "That's how the political system works."
Blood reported from Los Angeles.