Sharron Angle Faces Primary Challenge From USS Cole Commander Kirk Lippold In Nevada House Race

04/15/2011 04:43 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2011

WASHINGTON -- Perennial Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle has a new primary challenger in Nevada's Second Congressional District. The former commander of the USS Cole, the Navy ship bombed by al Qaeda in Yemen in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks, has jumped into what promises to be a crowded 2012 Republican field to take over the solidly red House seat.

Kirk Lippold, who lives in Carson City, told The Huffington Post in a phone interview that he is running in part because of what happened that October 2000 day in the Port of Aden when an explosive-laden boat rammed his destroyer and killed 17 sailors. The Navy vessel was heavily damaged but Lippold was credited with saving the ship, allowing it to be repaired and returned to service.

“That attack changed my life, in that it made me realize the importance of what America’s military does around the globe to safeguard our freedoms,” said Lippold, who is 51 years old. “My service to my Navy became more focused and even deeper, which has caused me to want to enter government service again.”

Angle and Lippold are vying to replace Republican Rep. Dean Heller, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Nevada's John Ensign. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki is also weighing a primary bid in the heavily Republican-leaning district that includes most of Nevada outside of Las Vegas.

Heller beat Angle in the district's 2006 GOP primary. Then Angle went on to wage a much-watched campaign against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2010, raising more than $14 million and drawing the national media like flies to the Silver State. Reid went on to win, in spite of several polls that had declared him a goner.

Lippold shares Angle’s conservative bent, including her fondness for the Tea Party movement.

“I embrace the principles of the Tea Party,” Lippold told HuffPost. “Any time you have citizens or groups willing to stand up and speak out about government oversight and government intrusion in our lives, it is a good thing. It is democracy in action. People are capable of thinking on their own.”

But the career Navy man, who joined the advocacy group Military Families United after he retired, said he is not a “professional politician” like Angle.

“She is serial campaigner and candidate. Not being a career politician, I can look at things with new leadership and new vision and bring to the office a sense of integrity," Lippold said. "People don’t believe integrity exists in Washington. I want to instill that sense of integrity and do what is right no matter how difficult the choice is.”

Lippold says his top priorities are righting the economy and bringing down the federal deficit. He said that House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) blueprint for spending, which passed on a partisan vote Friday, is “a great approach. It puts a plan out there with a vision for the future that we can work on.”

Despite his emphasis on fiscal issues, Lippold is likely to face questions about the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Lippold was assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the days after the 9/11 attack and helped craft the Bush administration's controversial detainee policy. He has been an outspoken voice against efforts to shut down the military prison and transfer terrorism suspects to U.S. soil.

Political opponents may also remind voters that Lippold retired from the Navy in 2007 with the rank of commander after his 26-year career stalled out amid questions surrounding the Cole incident. His promotion to captain went into limbo after a Navy investigator said Lippold failed to take precautions that might have avoided the attack and Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) made clear that he held him responsible.

But some members of Lippold’s crew on the Cole are rallying behind him in his new bid for the House.

“The people of Nevada could not ask for a man with more fortitude, resolve and integrity,” Navy Master Chief Petty Officer James Parlier told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “When the circumstances were most dire, Kirk Lippold rose to every challenge.”

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