Analysis: Tea Party Spoils the Party for GOP Establishment Candidates

By Dschabner

Sep 15, 2010 12:52am

ABC News' Amy Walter reports: The last major primary contests of 2010 went out with a bang. In Delaware and New York "outsider" candidates defeated those supported by the Republican establishment.  In New Hampshire, Republican Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, who has the unique distinction of being supported by both Sarah Palin and national Republicans, is in a neck-and-neck fight with Tea Party favorite Ovide Lamontagne.

What does all of this mean for November?

1) In Delaware, while Tea Party activists are celebrating O’Donnell’s victory, it’s Democrats who are the most thankful. By beating the popular -– and more electable GOP Rep. Mike Castle –- O’Donnell is now a decided underdog against the Democrat, New Castle County Executive Chris Coons.  Moreover, it makes the odds of a Republican take-over of the Senate a whole lot longer. Delaware was supposed to be a "gimmie" for the GOP. Most handicappers (us included) had Delaware listed as Leaning Republican. Tonight, Stu Rothenberg moved the race to Lean Dem. We expect that others will soon follow. The NRSC is not expected to fund O’Donnell this fall.

2) Attorney General Kelly Ayotte has long been considered the strongest candidate for Republicans in the New Hampshire Senate race. A WMUR-TV Granite State Poll taken in July showed her beating Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes by 8 points, while Tea Party favorite Ovide Lamontagne trailed Hodes by 6 points.

Even so, Ayotte’s had a rough summer and may not be as well-positioned as she was in July. She’s had a spate of bad press and both Hodes and one of her primary opponents, Bill Binnie, launched negative attacks on her. For his part, Lamontagne ran as the "happy warrior" and stayed out of the fray.  Still, Lamontagne had just $109,000 in his campaign bank account compared to more than $1.2 million for Hodes.

3) While it is indeed a "surprise" for Castle to have lost -– given all the advantages he had in this race –- it really shouldn’t have been. After all, Castle embodies all the things that a candidate doesn’t want to be in this environment: he's been on the ballot in Delaware since 1980, he's no spring chicken (he's 70) and he’s a moderate running in a Republican primary. 

4) Being Prepared Doesn't Always Matter: In the wake of Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s surprising loss in Alaska, Republicans were quick to point out that she didn’t take their advice to go negative on her opponent, Joe Miller. Castle, however, heeded that advice and attacked O'Donnell relentlessly. The local papers ran plenty of stories about O’Donnell that cast her in an unflattering light. And, he even got help from the Delaware Republican Party in attacking O’Donnell as a fringe candidate with a checkered past. None of it mattered.

This should be a sobering sign to national Democrats who are counting on a similar strategy to beat many of these Tea Party candidates this fall. To be sure, comparing a Republican primary electorate to a general election electorate is apples and oranges. Even so, it’s abundantly clear that these are not “typical” times. Frustration and anger with the status quo is so intense that what might give voters pause a couple years ago, might not matter as much this year.

5) Given Democratic New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s huge warchest and big lead in the polls, the conventional wisdom has long held that regardless of who he faced this fall, he was the odds-on-favorite. However, it’s worth taking Carl Paladino, who defeated Rick Lazio in the Republican primary, seriously. Yes, he has lots of personal baggage. But, he’s also got lots of money (Lazio didn’t) and a "mad as hell" message that's obviously got some appeal in a state where political corruption and incompetence runs rampant.

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