The 2010 primary season came to a close in a dramatic fashion Tuesday night, with a Tea Party-backed GOP insurgent unexpectedly winning in Delaware.
In all, eight Senate and House incumbents have been knocked out in the primary process, with the Tea Party movement the major factor in GOP contests.
The latest victim was claimed in Delaware, where political novice Christine O'Donnell beat nine-term moderate Republican Rep. Mike Castle in a Tea Party versus GOP establishment showdown that's become a theme of the 2010 elections.
Now that the November ballots are pretty much set, the question remains whether Republican insurgent winners like O'Donnell can hold up against Democratic opponents in the fall.
Until a few weeks ago, the Republican establishment expected Delaware to be an easy Senate seat pickup for the party. Castle, a popular politician who also served two terms as governor, seemed like shoo-in for the Senate seat that was held for three decades by Vice President Joe Biden. But after the Sacramento-based Tea Party Express poured money in support of O'Donnell, who lost a Senate bid to Biden in 2008, and Sarah Palin provided her endorsement, Delaware's Republican Senate primary became a national bellwether, the final pre-midterm test of the Tea Party movement's strength.
While that backing helped defeat Castle 53-47 percent, O'Donnell alienated establishment Republicans, a group whose support she'll need heading into the midterm against the Democratic candidates, New Castle County Executive Chris Coons. The Delaware Republican Party has vehemently opposed O'Donnell during the primaries, citing her reportedly shabby personal financial record among other things, and said in a news release Monday that she is "unelectable in the general election." In her victory speech, O'Donnell said "If those same people who fought against me work just as hard for me we will win."
The state GOP has yet to support O'Donnell as the party's winner in the primaries. Still, O'Donnell told various news programs Wednesday morning that, while her campaign will reach out to the Republican establishment, she "is confident we will win" even without the support of the Republican Party.
O'Donnell and Republicans are already butting heads. Former George W. Bush advisor Karl Rove told Fox News after the results came in Tuesday night, "this is not a race we're going to be able to win."
O'Donnell's win gives hope to Democrats who worried Castle would easily beat Coons in the midterm election. A Public Policy Polling report released today shows Coons with a 50-34 lead over O'Donnell. But the name recognition and national attention O'Donnell received from her win Tuesday night might help narrow the gap.
Sarah Palin also brought her "mama grizzly" embrace to the New Hampshire GOP Senate primary where she endorsed Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, who narrowly beat lawyer Ovide Lamontagne by less than 2,00 votes out of nearly 140,000. Lamontagne who is backed by Tea Partiers and by conservative South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint , could call for a vote recount. The winner will face Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes in the November race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Judd Gregg.
Elsewhere, the Tea Party movement trumped the establishment in the GOP primary for the New York governor's race, in which millionaire Buffalo developer Carl Paladino beat former congressman and GOP favorite Rick Lazio 63-37 percent. Paladino will face Democrat Andrew Cuomo, the popular former attorney general and son of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.
In majority-Democratic New York, Cuomo has a double digit lead over Paladino in the polls. Also in New York, forty-year House veteran Charlie Rangel held on to his seat winning more than 50 percent of the primary vote against assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell, despite the 13 House ethics charges against Rangel. And Rep. Carolyn Maloney also beat back a Democratic challenger to hold on to the seat she has held since 1992.
The only remaining primary will be held Sept. 18 in Hawaii.
This year's primaries have knocked out three Senators—Republicans Bob Bennett of Utah and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski and Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania—and five House members, Castle, Democrat-turned-Republican Parker Griffith of Alabama, Democrats Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of Michigan, Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, and Republican Bob Inglis of South Carolina.
While these races captured the headlines, a majority of voters stuck with most incumbents. In total, 23 Senators and 393 House members ran in this primary season.