Tea Party Cannibalism Is Hurting the GOP in the 2010 Election

The Tea Party element could well deprive the GOP of victories this November.

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Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party movement-backed candidate who scored a stunning GOP primary victory in Delaware Tuesday night, had it right in one sense. “Republican cannibalism,” O’Donnell said, describing the intra-party fighting that preceded her astonishing win.

But O’Donnell had the context wrong, making herself the victim of a GOP establishment that believed she could not win a general election because she had a previous tax lien, wrongly claimed she beat former Sen. Joe Biden in two counties, and has a view of sex that makes the Victorian era look ribald in comparison. There is indeed cannibalism going on, but it’s being committed by a Tea Party element that could well deprive the GOP of victories this November.

Democrats had all but written off the Delaware Senate seat when Rep. Mike Castle, a respected, moderate Republican congressman and former governor, announced he would seek it. But O’Donnell has none of Castle’s cross-party appeal, giving Democrats an unexpected chance to hang onto the Delaware seat Biden vacated. A Democratic win there could deprive Republicans of the opportunity to take back control of the Senate.

[See who donated the most to Castle’s campaign.]

Joe Miller’s win in the Alaska GOP Senate primary is not likely to flip the seat to Democrats, since the state is far more conservative than Delaware. But if incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski mounts a third-party bid, the race would demand attention and money from national Republicans they’d prefer to direct elsewhere.

[See who supports Murkowski.]

In New York, Republicans should have been able to capitalize on an appalling pattern of behavior by Democratic governors and the state legislature. But their nomination of Tea Party movement-backed Carl Paladino virtually ensures that the Empire State will be run by Democrat Andrew Cuomo next year.

In Massachusetts, Republicans had a rare opportunity to pick up a congressional seat, with Democratic Rep. Bill Delahunt retiring from his Cape Cod seat. While Democrats largely outnumber Republicans there, the district voted heavily for GOP Sen. Scott Brown, and it is the most conservative district in the blue Bay State. The selection of Tea Party movement favorite Jeff Perry as the GOP nominee makes that task harder. While voters might indeed be ready to reject an establishment Democrat like Bill Keating, the Norfolk district attorney, Perry is at a disadvantage in the law-and-order arena. Keating last weekend helped chase down a suspect who allegedly snatched a woman’s purse in a restaurant. Perry is under scrutiny for an illegal strip search of teenage girls by a police officer then under Perry’s command in the 1990s.

The Massachusetts 10th District race has always been something of a long shot for the GOP, and party officials don’t believe they need a win there to take back control of the House. But it was an opportunity, and one they may well have lost, unless Democrats fail to turn out to vote in the district.

There is something refreshing about any grassroots political movement that challenges the party establishment. The problem is that their candidates have not been subject to the vetting traditional candidates undergo. Angry, just-say-no candidates might be able to win primaries with the support of equally angry Republican voters. But winning over Democrats and Independents in the general election is a far bigger fight--and one the GOP may lose in critical seats.

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