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Associated Press/Photo by Rob Carr

Tea Party kicks GOP

Campaign 2010 | Christine O'Donnell's win in Delaware raises the question: Who's in charge of the Republican Party?

The last major primary night in 2010 put a major victory in the Tea Party's column with the upset win by conservative Christine O'Donnell in Delaware's GOP Senate race.

The Tea Party-backed O'Donnell, a long-shot underdog just a few weeks ago, defeated the Republican old guard in the form of moderate Rep. Michael Castle, who was looking to make the switch to the Senate after spending nine terms representing Delaware in the House.

Concluding that Castle, a popular former governor of the left-leaning state, had the best chance to win the general election, the Republican Party pushed hard for Castle in the race to fill Vice President Joe Biden's old Senate seat. Delaware GOP Chairman Tom Ross actively campaigned against O'Donnell, calling her delusional. But O'Donnell's easy win, with 53 percent of the vote to Castle's 47 percent, raises the question: Who exactly is in charge of the GOP?

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In her victory lap of television appearances on Wednesday morning, O'Donnell lashed out at "Republican cannibalism."

"They never thought that I could win this race," O'Donnell said on ABC's Good Morning America, referring to the Republican establishment. "I believe that we can win without them."

The nation's persistent anti-Washington mood fueled O'Donnell's surprising surge. But that mood was fanned by at least $250,000 in spending by the Tea Party Express and late endorsements from conservatives including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. During the primary season, DeMint, has gone against Republican Party leaders and backed several more conservative candidates.

"If [O'Donnell] is elected, she will join a growing group of new leaders in the Senate who will stand up to the big spenders in both parties and help us take our country back," DeMint said in a statement after the win.

But victory in November's general election is far from assured: O'Donnell already trails Democratic nominee Chris Coons by double digits in the polls. This steep underdog status is why liberals such as commentator Bill Maher have joined the Tea Party crowd in praising O'Donnell's win.

In order to regain a Senate majority, Republicans need to win 10 seats. That becomes much harder with O'Donnell's primary victory, according to GOP strategist Karl Rove.

Rove, appearing on Fox News Channel's Hannity Tuesday night, said O'Donnell has been saying "a lot of nutty things."

Rove added, "We were looking at eight to nine seats in the Senate. We're now looking at seven to eight, in my opinion. [Delaware] is not a race we're gonna be able to win."

Castle supporters targeted O'Donnell-who claimed that opposition campaign operatives were following her home at night-for her personal financial troubles. Those include past tax issues, overdue college bills, and a troubled home mortgage.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which oversees the party's campaign efforts, originally said Tuesday night that it had no plans to financially aid O'Donnell. But on Wednesday, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a statement, "Let there be no mistake: The National Republican Senatorial Committee-and I personally as the committee's chairman-strongly stand by all of our Republican nominees, including Christine O'Donnell in Delaware."

Cornyn's statement went on to say that he personally congratulated O'Donnell Wednesday morning, telling her "that she has our support. This support includes a check for $42,000-the maximum allowable donation that we have provided to all of our nominees-which the NRSC will send to her campaign today."

Delaware now joins Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, and Utah as states where voters this primary season have toppled establishment Republican candidates.

"No more politics as usual," O'Donnell said in her victory speech.

Though the Delaware primary delivered the biggest story of the night, contests in other states also packed a punch. In another anti-establishment jab, Republican Carl Paladino, a self-funded real estate tycoon, defeated former New York congressman Rick Lazio in New York's Republican primary for governor. Paladino will face Democrat Andrew Cuomo in a closely watched contest this fall.

Meanwhile, New York's embattled Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel won his party's primary despite facing more than a dozen ethics violation charges in the House. "I'm going back to Washington with such pride," Rangel told supporters.

In Washington, D.C., voters ousted Mayor Adrian Fenty in favor of City Council Chairman Vincent Gray in the Democratic primary, which essentially determines the mayor in the heavily Democratic city. Fenty had gained national attention for backing aggressive education reforms in one of the worst performing school districts in the country, raising scores and earning the praise of the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. But President Obama declined to endorse Fenty in his reelection bid. Fenty and his schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, had battled the local teachers' union, closing underperforming schools and firing underperforming teachers---moves that alienated many of the city's longtime residents.
Jamie Dean and Emily Belz contributed to this report.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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