LAS VEGAS – Nevada U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle told dozens of Hispanic high school students last week that "some of you look a little more Asian to me," inducing gasps from the crowd and marking the latest eyebrow-raising remark she has uttered on the campaign trail.
Angle, a Republican in a close contest against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, met Friday with the group at a Las Vegas high school after students expressed anger with her campaign's anti-illegal immigrant message.
In a video of the private meeting obtained by The Associated Press, Angle defends a series of campaign advertisements that lean on images of dark-skinned men. Angle, who is white and has Mexican grandsons, claims she did not know the people in the TV spots were Hispanic and makes the case that it can be difficult to pinpoint someone's race.
"You know, I don't know that all of you are Latino. Some of you look a little more Asian to me. I don't know that," she is heard telling the students, who respond with a flurry of gasps and whispers.
"What we know, what we know about ourselves is that we are a melting pot in this country. My grandchildren are evidence of that. I'm evidence of that. I've been called the first Asian legislator in our Nevada State Assembly."
She told the students that they are "misinterpreting" the commercials. "I'm not sure that those are Latinos in that commercial."
Angle also claimed she supported a state scholarship that benefited Hispanics, then later corrected herself and noted she voted against the scholarship as a state representative because it allowed non-citizens to receive taxpayer-subsidized tuition, according to the recording.
Rancho High School teacher Isaac Barron said the room of roughly 150 students was "rocked" by Angle's visit.
"Latinos do come in every shape and size," said Barron, whose Hispanic Student Union organized the event. "But it was shocking that she went out of her way to portray Hispanics in her commercials and then she calls us Asian."
Snippets of the brief high school visit have leaked out since Friday. Angle's campaign insisted the interlude not be recorded, but many students secretly taped the discussion on personal cell phones, Barron said. The AP obtained a complete copy of the event from students Monday.
Hispanics are a growing voting bloc in Nevada, where they make up roughly 25 percent of the population. More than 80 percent of the Silver State's Hispanics hail from Mexico.
Reid has attempted to present a balanced immigration record to voters. He has highlighted his votes to strengthen border security to mainstream audiences. To Hispanic crowds, he has vowed to make the road to citizenship more inclusive.
Angle's campaign spokesman said it is Reid's camp that is trying to play "race politics."
Hispanic leaders have blasted Angle's immigration stances.
On the tea party circuit, Angle has extolled strong-handed policies that might encourage illegal immigrants to "self-deport" and advocated for more sheriffs like Arizona's Joe Arpaio, who is under federal investigation for discriminating against Hispanics.
She has recently recast some of her more conservative images in the tight U.S. Senate race where Reid has tried to brand her "too extreme."
Angle's campaign has released more than four TV spots that accuse Reid of offering special breaks to illegal immigrants. In one campaign mailer, Reid is shown holding a map of Mexico with the word "amnesty" scribbled across the country.
One of the most criticized images, a still of three stony-faced Hispanic men from Getty Images, Inc, is of Mexican men in Mexico, according to the caption on the photography site.
Freshman Silvia Parra said she asked Angle on Friday to pull the "anti-Hispanic" commercials.
"She said, 'We don't have any anti-Hispanic ads,'" Parra recalled. "I feel like she kind of lied to me in front of my face."