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O’Donnell’s Tea Party-Backed Win May Put Senate Control Out of GOP’s Reach

Christine O'Donnell

Christine O’Donnell speaks to supporters after winning Delaware’s Republican primary for Senate against Rep. Mike Castle. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

The Morning Lne

Christine O’Donnell’s strong, six-point (53 percent to 47 percent) victory over the more moderate Rep. Mike Castle in Tuesday’s Delaware Republican primary is nothing short of a nightmare for Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is charged with winning a Republican majority in the Senate on November 2.

For the last couple of months, every conversation with Democrats or Republicans about the GOP potentially winning a majority in the Senate began thusly: “Let’s start with North Dakota, Indiana, Arkansas and Delaware as the four seats currently held by Democrats that will likely fall instantly on election night.”

Former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and the Tea Party Express got behind Christine O’Donnell’s candidacy, takng one of the Republicans’ sure bet victories off the table.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Jesmer issued a terse statement Tuesday night that summed up the party’s dismay in what it didn’t say. “We congratulate Christine O’Donnell for her nomination this evening after a hard-fought primary campaign in Delaware,” Jesmer said.

POLITICO’s Jonathan Martin and TIME’s Mark Halperin both take smart, must-read looks at how O’Donnell’s victory is going to cause some serious soul searching inside the Republican Party about the longterm reach of the party.

On ABC’s “Good Morning America” Wednesday morning, O’Donnell said that Palin made the difference in her campaign after the Republican establishment and her opponent started hammering away at her.

“When Governor Palin stood up and so boldly made a statement that she supported me it allowed [the voters] to get past the politics of personal destruction,” said O’Donnell.

“When we started gaining momentum and we started gaining credibility in this race, it made the Republican establishment look like lazy people who did not care about their principles,” she added.

Democrats are eager to play up the success of Tea Party candidates in many Republican primaries who may have a tougher challenge appealing to a broad general election electorate.

“Tonight Mike Castle became the eighth Republican establishment candidate to be upset by a party in complete turmoil. Instead, Delaware Republicans chose an ultra-right wing extremist who is out of step with Delaware values. Christine O’Donnell cares more about imposing an extreme social doctrine than addressing the challenges facing working people,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez in a statement last night.

But Democrats should probably refrain from popping champagne just yet. Nothing has fundamentally changed about the overall dynamic of this election season. All the energy propelling these more conservative candidates in the GOP primary season is now going to be turned on the Democrats with an intense focus on trying to make the majority party the minority party.

As for that Senate map, Joe Biden’s old Senate seat now looks much more likely to remain in Democrats’ hands. That means Republicans will need to hold all of their own competitive seats in Kentucky, Florida and Missouri, and win at least seven of these nine Democratic held seats: Illinois, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, West Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, California, Colorado and Nevada.

OTHER RESULTS

O’Donnell’s victory was not the only one for the Tea Party on Tuesday. In New York, millionaire businessman Carl Paladino walloped former congressman Rick Lazio in the Republican primary for governor, 62 percent to 38 percent.

It’s still unclear if the Tea Party may score a victory in the New Hampshire Senate race. Former state attorney general Kelly Ayotte, the national Republican Party’s preferred candidate in the race, was hanging on to a small lead over Tea Party-backed Ovide Lamontagne in the wee hours of the morning when both candidates called it a night and expected to continue to monitor the vote count Wednesday morning.

Embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., survived his four-way primary challenge with 50.5 percent of the vote in the Harlem-based district he has represented for the last 40 years. Rangel still faces a trial before the House ethics committee on multiple alleged violations of House ethics rules. Perhaps more troubling for Rangel, he now faces the prospect of returning to Congress in January with no significant power after relinquishing the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty was ousted by City Council Chairman Vincent Gray in the all but decisive Democratic primary. Fenty provides the perfect example of what not to do in politics. He squandered the huge base of support with which he came into office four years ago.

KENTUCKY DERBY

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has released its first television ad of the general election in Kentucky, a move that’s sure to raise a few eyebrows given that the Republicans are on offense in most of the country and chose to begin television advertising by playing defense in a reliably red state.

The ad, titled “Jockey Jack,” slams Jack Conway for supporting the health care overhaul earlier this year and for his refusal as state attorney general to sue to block the law once it was enacted.

The spot closes with the line: “Jack Conway: He’s not riding Kentucky’s horse.”

A senior Republican aide told the Morning Line the goal of the ad is two-fold: to boost Rand Paul, whose lead in internal polls is somewhere between seven and nine points, and “force the DSCC (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) to make some tough decisions.”

The aide notes Democrats have reserved time in Kentucky in October. “How are they going to explain to Boxer, Murray, Bennet, Feingold etc. that they are spending money in a red state for a candidate who has been consistently behind,” the aide e-mails.

WRITING IT IN?

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, defeated by Tea Party-favorite Joe Miller in the state’s GOP Senate primary last month, announced Tuesday she would make a decision about pursuing an independent write-in candidacy this Friday.

In the statement on her campaign website, Murkowski says she will not run as a Libertarian candidate and also slams the influence the Tea Party Express had in the July primary:

After meeting with the Libertarian candidate last week and considering that option, I cannot in good conscience seek the Libertarian nomination. As disappointed as I am in the outcome of the Primary and my belief that the Alaska Republican Party was hijacked by the Tea Party Express, an outside extremist group, I am not going to quit my party. I will not wrap myself in the flag of another political party for the sake of election at any cost.”

A revived Murkowski candidacy could split the Republican vote in Alaska, improving the general election prospects of the Democratic nominee, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, in the process.

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