Carson City - Surging Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle has had to defend her support of a prison program that her opponents linked to Scientology. Trying to head off that theme, Angle has eliminated from her campaign website mention of prominent members of the church, whom she worked with on other legislative efforts.
Angle has removed the claim that she, along with actresses Kelly Preston and Jenna Elfman, approached Sen. John Ensign to sponsor legislation prohibiting school employees from requiring students to take psychotropic drugs, such as anti-depressants.
Preston and Elfman are high-profile members of the Church of Scientology, which does not believe in the use of psychiatric drugs.
Instead, Angle's website, sharronangle.com, says only that Ensign sponsored a bill "at Angle's request."
(In 2001 and 2003, Angle introduced legislation in Nevada similar to the federal legislation, which passed.)
The apparent scrubbing of her website of the potentially controversial issue - critics of Scientology call it a cult - comes as Angle gains ground in the Republican primary, which has narrowed to a three-way race to take on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Angle's surge has been fueled in part by the missteps of her opponents and a spate of national endorsements, including from the Tea Party Express and conservative Club for Growth.
Sue Lowden, formerly the clear front-runner, has begun attacking Angle, including for her support in 2003 of a drug-treatment program for inmates that included saunas and massages as treatment.
Lowden's campaign and many establishment Republicans believe it would be difficult for Angle to beat Reid in the general election. Angle has taken rigid ideological stands that may help her in the primary, but would likely alienate many independents and Democrats in November.
Any ties to Scientology could be troublesome for a candidate whose biggest challenge may be convincing Republican primary voters that she can gather mainstream support.
Jerry Stacy, spokesman for Angle, said the attacks are "desperate. This is what desperate people do. (Lowden) is in serious trouble. This is no longer just about who can beat Harry Reid. It's about who will best represent Nevada."
Angle, a Southern Baptist who has quoted scripture during media interviews, has never advocated Scientology, he said. "This is all about blowing this thing out of proportion - making it sound like she's a Scientologist."
Though she never presented a bill, Angle did attempt to organize a legislative trip to see the inmate treatment program at a Mexican jail. She made the proposal after visiting the facility with a former corrections department director. The legislative trip would have been arranged and paid for by a member of the Church of Scientology, and critics say the program is modeled on the faith's teachings.
Angle lobbied Gov. Kenny Guinn to support the program, Guinn confirmed Monday.
Though Angle has had to defend her position on the prison program, her role in the federal legislation on psychotropic drugs has not previously been reported in the media.
Not that Angle was trying to hide that role, at least before she entered the national spotlight. As recently as March, one entry in a list of accomplishments on her website read: "Kelly Preston (Mrs. John Travolta), Jenna Elfman (Dharma and Greg Sit Com) and Robin Read (Director of NFWL) accompanied Sharron Angle to Senator Ensign's" office, according to online search archives.
In a March interview with the Las Vegas Sun, Angle volunteered that she and Preston had visited Ensign about the legislation on psychotropic drugs.
The website now says only that Angle "made it unlawful nationally for anyone but a physician to require the use psychotropic drugs (such as Ritalin) for public school attendance by certain children. Senator John Ensign sponsored the bill at Angle's request."
Angle's website formerly said that accompanying her to Ensign's office was Read, who heads the National Foundation of Women Legislators. That organization, which some say has links to Scientology, promotes the drug treatment program that Angle advocated for in 2003.
The group's website lists Angle as a legislative chairwoman of the Business, Housing & Economic Development Committee.
Read did not return calls for comment.
Stacy, Angle's spokesman, said the website was recently revamped. Any change was likely because of that reworking - not because of criticism of her support for the prison drug treatment program, he said.
But Angle has downplayed her associations with Scientology since entering the U.S. Senate race.
"You may agree with me, but that doesn't mean I agree with you all the time," Angle said of her relationship with members of the church. "I'm still glad to have you on board."
Stacy said the legislation that Angle asked Ensign to sponsor addressed a serious issue. "We had a problem of teachers wanting kids to be doped up. It's not a teacher's place to decide whether a kid is on drugs," he said.
When she pushed similar legislation in the Legislature, Angle said she wanted to prevent school employees from forcing students to take medicine such as Ritalin. "The problems we're seeing with our children and these shooting incidents - such as at Columbine - psychotropic drugs are linked to them," Angle told the Assembly Education Committee in 2001. The bill was not successful.