Democrat Christopher Coons was projected to beat flamboyant Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell tonight in the race to keep Vice President Joe Biden's former Senate seat in Democratic hands.
The Delaware race was rarely in doubt as Coons, the New Castle County executive, enjoyed double digit leads in polls in recent weeks, but the national spotlight remained on the state. It was one of the first defeats of the Tea Party.
When O'Donnell appeared before cheering supporters last night, she hardly sounded like a woman defeated in her third try at the Senate.
"We have won," she proclaimed. "The Delaware political system will never be the same ... The Republican Party will never be the same. Our voices were heard and we're not going to be quiet now. This is just the beginning."
She said she spoke to Coons and "reminded him that he is now in a position to help the people in Delaware who are suffering."
Palin downplayed O'Donnell's defeat, telling Fox News, "Christine's defeat in a deep blue state is not really a surprise, but is disappointing for those who wanted to shake it up."
O'Donnell first burst into the political limelight as a Tea Party candidate who defeated a moderate and popular Republican, Rep. Michael Castle, in the September primary. She quickly raised $1 million from jubilant Tea Party supporters and won the endorsement of Sarah Palin.
The spotlight, however, turned harsh as O'Donnell struggled to defuse a series of revelations about her past that included dabbling in witchcraft, unpaid student debts and income taxes, IRS liens and improperly used campaign funds.
She also had to explain her stands as a social conservative appearing on shows such as Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" in the 1990s campaigning against pornography and masturbation.
O'Donnell, who twice ran for the Senate and lost, didn't help her cause when her first television campaign ad began with the declaration, "I am not a witch." It soon became a punchline on late-night talk shows, a sure sign of political jeopardy.
O'Donnell remained in the Senate race against the wishes of Republicans in Washington. A few national Republican figures donated to her campaign in the days after she won, but she later appeared to be largely been on her own, prompting O'Donnell to publicly criticize the National Republican Senatorial Committee for not helping her campaign.
While a throw-the-bums-out attitude has shaped races across the country, the Palin-backed O'Donnell did not appear to benefit from the trend.
Last month, both President Obama and Biden showed up in Delaware to campaign for Coons despite his commanding lead in the polls, trying to link O'Donnell and her Tea Party ties to the national GOP.
Biden, who held the Senate seat for 36 years, described Coons as "a man of incredible integrity."
Coons' victory could be vital to the Democrats in the Senate. Should Democrats lose nine other seats in the election, leaving the Senate at 50-50, Coons could emerge as a party savior of sorts because they would retain the majority by virtue of the vice president holding a tie-breaking vote in the Senate.
Hours before the polls opened in Delaware, O'Donnell appeared encouraged of her chance because of the low turnout at a rally for Coons attended by Biden.