WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2010 -- 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. While in New Hampshire, Republican Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, who has the unique distinction of being supported by both Sarah Palin and national Republicans, successfully fought off a late-race challenge from Tea Party favorite Ovide Lamontagne.
What does all of this mean for November?
1) In Delaware, while Tea Party activists are celebrating Christine 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 New Castle Co. executive Chris Coons, a Democrat.
Moreover, it makes the chances of a Republican takeover of the Senate a whole lot longer. Delaware was supposed to be a "gimmie" for the GOP. Most handicappers (us included) had Delaware leaning Republican in the November election. Last night, political analyst Stu Rothenberg moved the race to lean Democrat, as did ABC News. We expect that others will soon follow.
On Fox News last night, former adviser to President George W. Bush, Karl Rove questioned O'Donnell's record, her "checkered" background, and predicted that she would cost the Republicans an important seat.
Republican leaders told ABC's Jonathan Karl they will not spend a dime on the race because they do not believe she has a chance of winning.
O'Donnell, who credits Sarah Palin with making the critical difference in her campaign, today called that "a shame."
"I was ahead in the general election according to Rasmussen, before this Republican cannibalism started," she said on "GMA" this morining. "So if they were serious about winning we can repair the damage done and move forward and that is a challenge I put out to them. And if not I truly believe that we can win."
2) Attorney General Kelly Ayotte had long been considered the strongest candidate for Republicans in the New Hampshire Senate race and her victory over Lamontagne comes as a relief to party leaders seeking to hang on to Sen. Judd Gregg's seat.
A WMUR-TV Granite State Poll taken in July showed her beating Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes by 8 points, while Tea Party favorite 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 over $1.2 million for Hodes.
Tea Party Upsets GOP Establishment Candidates
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) In the wake of the surprising loss of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Republicans were quick to point out that she didn't take their advice to go negative on her opponent, Joe Miller. In Delaware, however, Castle heeded their warnings 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) In New York, given Democratic state 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 Republican Carl Paladino seriously. Yes, he has lots of personal baggage. But, he's also got lots of money (primary loser Rick 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.
6) In another major upset, Washington, D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty lost his reelection bid to council chairman Vincent Gray. Under Fenty, crime dropped and scores at schools improved, but opinion polls time and again showed voters considered the mayor disconnected. Fenty took much heat for his support of DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, whose performance-based system for schools led to a dismissal of a number of teachers and principals.