Fearing a bloody intra-party feud with grass-roots conservatives, the Republican establishment is backing down from threats to torpedo GOP senate nominee Christine O'Donnell's candidacy following her stunning primary triumph over Rep. Mike Castle in Delaware Tuesday.
"Christine O'Donnell will be the next senator from Delaware," RNC chairman Michael Steele declared Wednesday morning. "We nominated a damn good Republican."
Steele's statement was a marked departure from the thinly veiled ridicule from GOP insiders that greeted O'Donnell's stunning win Tuesday night.
Not only did O'Donnell defeat longtime respected Rep. Mike Castle, a moderate, but she did so handily, winning by 53 to 47 percent margin.
Voter turnout was nearly double the 30,000 initially projected, reflecting the electric grass-roots energy surging through Delaware in the campaign's final weeks.
Democratic consultant Richard Goodstein, president and CEO of the D.C.-based law and lobbying firm of Goodstein & Associates, told Newsmax that O'Donnell's win represented "an enormous setback" for the GOP that "appreciably diminished" its chances of winning control of the Senate.
The Election Night frustration suggested that most GOP insiders agreed.
They saw the financially troubled O'Donnell as a seriously flawed candidate who was far less likely to carry the heavily Democratic state in November against Democrat nominee Chris Coons, the New Castle County Executive.
Their disappointment at the voters' choice was palpable. As master GOP strategist Karl Rove told Fox News Tuesday night: “We were looking at eight to nine seats in the Senate, we are now looking at 7 to 8 in my opinion. This is not a race we’re going to be able to win.”
Rove appeared to walk those remarks back marginally on Wednesday, however, saying in another appearance on Fox: "If she wins, more power to her," Rove said. "She's right on the issues. But I think the voters of Delaware are not going to just want to know are you right on the issues, but do you have the character and record and background that gives me confidence that you are the right person for the job."
For the Republican establishment, O'Donnell's sudden emergence in the campaign's waning days was like watching an oncoming freight train without being able to get off the tracks.
After Fairbanks attorney Joe Miller's upset win over incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, the party leaders decided to take no chances against O'Donnell. They brought out the heavy guns: The head of the state GOP began targeting O'Donnell, at one point saying she couldn't win an election as dogcatcher.
When former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., endorsed O'Donnell's campaign, establishment Republicans and pundits complained they were acting irresponsibly. Once the same Tea Party Express organization that bolstered Miller sent grass-roots operatives and a pile of cash into Delaware to help O'Donnell, the intra-party slugfest was on.
Immediately after O'Donnell's stunning upset, the National Republican Senatorial Committee appeared to signal it would leave her to fight out the general election on her own.
"We will look at the best way to allocate our resources,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh told Politico.com.
O'Donnell's reaction: "That's a shame, but they never thought I could win this race, and I believe that we can win without them," she said Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America.
"They also said that Ronald Reagan wasn't electable," she added.
Effectively boycotting O'Donnell's candidacy would have carried too high a price, apparently, possibly provoking a split with the grass-roots conservatives who are fueling what appears to be a looming GOP political tsunami in November.
Sal Russo, the co-founder of the Tea Party Express organization whose support played a key role in the recent string of tea party primary victories, told Newsmax: "There would be a serious backlash if the establishment turns their back on the tea party conservative candidates -- they are the keys to a big win in November because they create the clear contrast to the tax and spend Democrats. It is the bold colors that win elections, not the pale pastels, as Ronald Reagan always said.
"I am more disappointed in some of our conservative friends who are allowing their beltway mentality to overcome their good senses. That list is too long to mention. I hear that Fox is being besieged with criticism of Karl Rove for his comments last night," Russo told Newsmax.
Apparently intent on heading off any feud with the increasingly formidable tea party, NRSCC chairman John Cornyn released just before noon Wednesday the following 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.
"I reached out to Christine this morning, and as I have conveyed to all of our nominees, I offered her my personal congratulations and let her know 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."
Tea Party activists were ecstatic Wednesday about the near sweep of movement candidates against establishment candidates in what was the last major round of primaries before the November midterms.
"I think the war is over and ended," Tea Party Patriots national leadership council member Everett Wilkinson told Newsmax. "First the GOP made fun of tea parties, then they tried to take them over by stealing their message, and as a last resort, they have tried to buy seats.
"Mainstream GOP just got eaten..... The tea party is here to stay. The mainstream GOP are now being forced fed the same 'party loyalty' slogans that they have for years jammed down the throats of fiscal conservatives."
Among Tuesday's shockers: The rout by tea party favorite and Buffalo millionaire Carl P. Paladino over former congressman and establishment candidate Rick A. Lazio for the GOP nomination for New York governor.
"The real surprise here was just how badly we beat the GOP establishment," Paladino campaign manager Michael Caputo told Newsmax. "It wasn't a squeaker. It wasn't even close. It was a complete blowout. There are those of us here in the campaign who attribute that to tea party-type folks, and other disaffected Republicans, who are just flat out fed up."
Caputo told Newsmax the campaign is meeting later today with GOP leaders, and expects to learn at that time how much they're willing to invest in Paladino's November challenge against the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo.
Paladino's campaign reportedly received an important boost from GOP political operative Roger Stone. Despite polls showing the race too close to call, Paladino trounced Lazio by 67 to 33 with 85 percent of the vote counted.
"The Republican Party in New York threw up every impediment they could to stop Paladino, and they failed," Caputo told Newsmax. "… they did everything they could. They were desperate -- and they got waxed. We don't mean beaten. We mean beaten about the head. And the fact is if they walk away from the Paladino candidacy, they walk away from the party."
Caputo attributed much of that success to the tea party furor, and called the tea party movement "probably the most remarkable political movement since the anti-war movement in the Sixties."
He added: "It's in my mind five to six times the size of the Reagan revolution. There's no question people who are members of this revolution, and those who are interested and appreciative of this revolution, are making change in New York. And I think that same change is happening across the United States."
The tea party appeared to sustain one important setback in New Hampshire, however.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday afternoon that Kelly Ayotte, yet another candidate supported by Sarah Palin, had defeated tea party favorite Ovide Lamontagne, by a 38 percent 30 37 percent margin.
Lamontagne must decide by 5 p.m. Wednesday whether he will demand a recount from New Hampshire election authorities.
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