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Delaware Among Primaries With a Surprising Finish

September 15, 2010 at 4:59 PM EDT
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Outsiders and Tea Party-backed candidates posted victories in key primaries around the country on Tuesday. Political editor David Chalian reviews the winners and losers.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Tuesday’s primary elections ended with another night of surprises in a year of upsets.

And it left the political world to sort out what it means for the Republican Party’s quest to take back control of Congress.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JEFFREY BROWN: Another primary, another victory for a relative unknown over a more established candidate. This one came in Delaware, with Christine O’Donnell’s win in yesterday’s Republican Senate primary vote.

CHRISTINE O’DONNELL (R), Delaware Senatorial Candidate: Ladies and gentlemen, the people of Delaware have spoken.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JEFFREY BROWN: O’Donnell, a Tea Party favorite, won 53 percent of the vote, defeating the national party’s preferred choice, moderate nine-term Congressman Mike Castle.

CHRISTINE O’DONNELL: The commonsense men and women of Delaware are tired of the same old coming out of Washington. They don’t want more of the same. Well, we are not more of the same.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY BROWN: Castle becomes the eighth Republican candidate favored by the party to be overtaken in a Senate bid in the past year-and-a-half. He didn’t endorse O’Donnell in his remarks last night, and an aide to Castle said today no such support would be coming.

REP. MIKE CASTLE (R-DE), Senatorial Candidate: The voters in the Republican primary have spoken, and I respect that decision.

JEFFREY BROWN: The national Republican Party, which had fiercely supported Castle, now must grapple with O’Donnell’s candidacy in the November election. In an interview with ABC this morning, O’Donnell said she doesn’t need the party establishment.

CHRISTINE O’DONNELL: And I believe that we can win without them. This is about giving the political power back to we, the people. I didn’t count on the establishment to win the primary. I’m not counting on them to win the general. I’m counting on the voters of Delaware.

JEFFREY BROWN: Those voters will now choose between O’Donnell and Chris Coons, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. O’Donnell’s victory produced decidedly different reactions in Washington today. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said O’Donnell would have his full support, and he praised the movement that spurred her victory.

MICHAEL STEELE, chairman, Republican National Committee: This is coming from the streets of America. This is coming from small towns. This is coming from neighborhoods wide and large. And the establishment in this town is so clueless and so out of touch with what real people are going through every day.

JEFFREY BROWN: At the White House, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs played up the criticism of O’Donnell from her fellow Republicans.

WHITE HOUSE SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: I think, if you look at what people like Karl Rove or people like the state GOP chairman have said, the Republicans in Delaware nominated somebody that they don’t believe can win, I think in the words of the state party chair, couldn’t be elected dogcatcher.

JEFFREY BROWN: In New Hampshire’s Republican Senate primary, meanwhile, a party favorite did manage to pull out a narrow victory, as Kelly Ayotte was declared the winner today over conservative insurgent Ovide Lamontagne. She will now face Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes in November.

The Tea Party did find additional success in New York, where Carl Paladino received 62 percent of the vote in the Republican gubernatorial primary to defeat Rick Lazio.

CARL PALADINO (R-NY),gubernatorial candidate: If we have learned anything tonight, it’s that New Yorkers are as mad as hell.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JEFFREY BROWN: Paladino’s general election opponent will be Democratic state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the son of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. Also yesterday, 20-term Congressman Charles Rangel vanquished five opponents to take the Democratic primary in New York’s 15th District, despite facing an upcoming House ethics trial.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D-NY): No matter what they say, I go back to Washington stronger than I have ever been.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JEFFREY BROWN: And, in Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty, who four years ago swept into office as the city’s youngest ever mayor, lost to City Council Chairman Vincent Gray.

VINCENT GRAY (D-DC), mayoral candidate: To those who say you can’t have both collaboration and reform, that they are mutually exclusive, I say, you are wrong.

JEFFREY BROWN: As an extraordinarily volatile primary season comes to an end, the candidates will now prepare for what may be an even rockier general election campaign.

JEFFREY BROWN: And joining me now is NewsHour political editor David Chalian. Welcome back.

DAVID CHALIAN: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, more churning, another outsider victory. This time the focus, for the day today, is on the Republican Party, right?

DAVID CHALIAN: Well, no doubt, Jeff. We have seen, all primary season long, inside the Republican Party, this storyline play out. What’s amazing is that primary season ended quite with a bang because of where it took place, but we have seen this Tea Party element, the conservative, energized element inside the Republican Party, upend the establishment time after time after time.

The victory for Christine O’Donnell in Delaware is the eighth time this year that the preferred Republican candidate fell to an insurgent candidate inside these Republican primaries.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so fill in the picture a little bit with her and the state. Who is Christine O’Donnell? And what are the — what factors, what do we know about what got her to victory?

DAVID CHALIAN: She’s not brand-new to Delaware politics. Many people don’t realize, she was actually the Republican nominee once before, just two years ago, against Joe Biden. Of course, when you’re the Republican nominee against Joe Biden, it’s — she only got about 35 percent of the vote, and she spent about $100,000.

JEFFREY BROWN: But she’s known within the state?

DAVID CHALIAN: But she’s known within the state as a bit of a gadfly at times, both within her own party, and that’s how Democrats see her as well. She’s a marketing businessperson there and a sort of political commentator over her life at times, social conservative, but embraced by the Tea Party movement this time around.

She went out very early on and sought to enmesh herself in the Tea Party movement. Sarah Palin endorsed her. Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina endorsed her. And the Tea Party Express, one of the groups in this sort of diffuse movement, went on the air for — with television ads for her, so she had that full backing of that right-wing side of the party.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, when we broaden this out now, the key question is how this impacts the battle for control of the Senate, right?

DAVID CHALIAN: Well, without a doubt. And that’s why Delaware was a little bit different here, because in other places like Kentucky or Colorado or Nevada, where we saw the Tea Party candidate win the Republican nomination, those are states where they could still perform rather well.

In Delaware, which is a Democratic-leaning state, it makes it much tougher. Take a look here at the map, if you will. This is the competitive Senate race landscape. Obviously, you see many more blue states that are currently held by Democrats, because they’re playing a lot more defense. They have to defend a lot more turf than the Republicans do.

JEFFREY BROWN: These are the ones that are up for grabs, right?

DAVID CHALIAN: These are the ones that are really competitive right now.

But you can immediately see that, if the Republicans hold all those red states, they’re already leading in about three of the blue states, North Dakota, Indiana, and Arkansas. That means they have got to win seven of the nine that are left in order to get the 10 that they need to become the majority party.

That was easier when the universe included Delaware, because it looked like, with Mike Castle as the nominee, it would be a very easy pickup for them. That just became a lot harder, and that map became a lot tougher for the Republicans.

JEFFREY BROWN: That’s — OK. The assumption is that she is a weaker candidate than Mike Castle would have been. Now, we heard Democrats playing to that, playing that up today, right, playing up the differences between — within the Republican Party.

DAVID CHALIAN: Right. And it’s not just Democrats that thought she was the weaker candidate. The Republican establishment thought she was the weaker candidate as well.

JEFFREY BROWN: Of course.

DAVID CHALIAN: But here’s where Democrats may want to not uncork the champagne just yet, because what fueled her candidacy, this energy, is what we’re seeing that is dominating the political environment. Last week, there was a study out from American University looking at voter turnout. For the first time since 1930, there’s been a greater Republican turnout in these statewide primaries than there is on the Democratic side.

All the energy, all the enthusiasm, and all the activism is on the Republican side. And primary season is over, Jeff, now. So all of this that took place between the Tea Party and the establishment Republican Party during primary season, that energy now turns for the next seven weeks on to the Democratic Party, with the sole goal of trying to knock them from majority status to minority status.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. But, for today — and I saw you smiling as it happened — we got to see Robert Gibbs quoting Karl Rove, which you don’t see too often.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID CHALIAN: You don’t see that all too often.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, David Chalian, our political editor, thanks a lot.

DAVID CHALIAN: Thanks.