WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2010 -- What would this wild and raucous primary season have been without some souvenirs?
Republicans are finally able to move past a chaotic series of primaries, and into a fall campaign season in which they are rightly optimistic about their chances for taking over control of Congress.
But memories of the primary-season battles will linger through November and beyond. Intra-party battles seem certain at this point to have an impact on the inter-party fight of the general election.
For all the tea party energy that's thrust itself onto the political scene this year, it's still not clear what it will all mean in the end -- or even that it will necessarily benefit the political party that's most closely aligned with tea party values.
Republicans are still grappling with a force many of them hardly understand, even as they seek to craft a united platform to take to voters this fall.
Christine O'Donnell's shocking win in Delaware last week -- the upset of the election cycle -- leaves Republicans in considerably worse position to take over a Senate seat that had been all but chalked up for the GOP this year.
O'Donnell was at least the seventh tea partier to best an establishment choice for the Republican nomination for Senate this year. Add Delaware to a list that includes Nevada, Kentucky and Colorado -- states where tea partiers arguably leave Republicans weaker in the fall than if the more moderate candidates had won.
Meanwhile, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski's decision to mount a write-in campaign after losing her primary to tea party favorite Joe Miller means the GOP will have to expend time and resources to stop a three-way scramble from benefiting the little-known Democratic candidate, Scott McAdams.
A roughly similar scenario is playing out in Florida, where Gov. Charlie Crist is running as an independent after one of the earliest tea party favorites, Marco Rubio, appeared to lock up the GOP nomination months before the primary even occurred.
Murkowski is casting her decision as a selfless attempt to serve the people of her state.
"It's not trying to make the Republican Party happy. It's not trying to make [Sen.] Jim DeMint happy. It's trying to respond to the people of the state of Alaska," Murkowski said today on CNN.
Republicans like DeMint argue that the party is better off adhering to firm principles, even if that hinders their ability to take control of Congress.
"Frankly, I'm at a point where I'd rather lose fighting for the right cause than win fighting for the wrong cause," DeMint, R-S.C., told ABC News last week.
But such splits have very real implications on the midterm elections that are barely six weeks away. Republicans have still not put forward a platform of their own -- a new version of the Contract with America that they rode to power in 1994.
In presenting ideas to the public, Republicans have to please varied and not necessarily aligned constituencies. Tea partiers are insisting on strict fiscally conservative principles with a recommitment to original constitutional ideals; the GOP's tradition base, with its socially conservative strains, wants its issues addressed as well.
For their part, Democrats sense opportunity in the direction tea partiers have taken the Republican Party. Every out-of-the-mainstream viewpoint articulated by a Republican candidate for Congress is an opportunity for Democrats to paint their opponents with a broad brush -- plus a chance to frame the election as a choice, rather than a referendum on President Obama and his leadership.
Many veteran Republicans are hesitant to embrace tea party energy, even at this very late stage in the campaign, where a unified party would seem to give them the best chance to take over one or both chambers of Congress.
Thus the extraordinary spectacle of Republican guru Karl Rove pronouncing O'Donnell unelectable in the wake of her upset of Rep. Mike Castle in the primary.
Murkowski's decision to go her own way stems from a similar frustration over where the tea party is taking the GOP, and a faith that the mainstream of the electorate will go in a different direction.
Colin Powell, a longtime Republican who endorsed Obama in the 2008 campaign, spoke for many mainstream GOPers in wondering where all the energy leaves the party.
"It may well be a fad, unless it converts itself from a movement into something that is a real political organization that takes stands on positions," Powell said today on NBC. "You have to have more than slogans."
Political seasons, of course, are never short on slogans. But Republicans who are asking for power back know it won't be enough to let the tea party movement carry them through to the fall.