‘Tea party’ hopes to stay hot

Delaware, N.H. races seen as key for Senate

Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell addresses supporters during a Tea Party Express news conference in support of her election bid in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)
Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell addresses supporters during a Tea Party Express news conference in support of her election bid in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)
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The “tea party” movement is trying to add to its string of nationwide GOP primary upsets this election year by winning Tuesday in New Hampshire and Delaware, both crucial seats in the fight to control the Senate.

A win in the Delaware primary, featuring establishment-backed Rep. Michael N. Castle and “tea party” favorite Christine O'Donnell, would perhaps be the most stunning of this cycle. Mr. Castle, who has held elected office in the state since the mid-1960s, had what appeared to be an insurmountable lead until recently, and a tea party victory in the largely Democratic mid-Atlantic region until this month was considered nearly impossible.

A poll released this week by Public Policy Polling shows Ms. O'Donnell leading Mr. Castle by 3 percentage points, 47 percent to 44 percent.

“It looks like there’s a real possibility of a major upset,” said the firm’s blogger Tom Jensen.

The Delaware and New Hampshire primaries are among several high-profile races Tuesday, including the Democratic race for the House in New York in which incumbent Rep. Charles B. Rangel hopes voters will reserve judgment until the conclusion of a congressional ethics investigation and put him on track for a 21st term.

Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Wisconsin also are holding key primary races.

In Delaware, the poll also found Mr. Castle, who last year supported a House “cap-and-trade” bill, is an overwhelming favorite among moderate voters, but they make up just 33 percent of likely primary voters. Ms. O'Donnell’s numbers among conservative voters are more than enough to give her the overall lead, the poll found.

Mr. Castle’s popularity among state Republicans also has dropped, with 55 percent now saying he’s too liberal - a trend that started about the time the conservative insurgency in Alaska was wrapping up its come-from-behind win in which lawyer Joe Miller defeated GOP incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, in part because of the support of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express.

Energized by the Aug. 24 win in Alaska, the Tea Party Express began pumping an estimated $250,000 into the Delaware race to help Ms. O'Donnell’s shoestring campaign buy TV ads criticizing Mr. Castle.

Ms. O'Donnell got another boost to her conservative credentials this weekend with an endorsement from Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican who this year already has helped outsiders defeat establishment candidates in the Alaska, Florida, Kentucky and Nevada primaries.

The winner of the Republican primary in Delaware will face Democratic candidate and New Castle County Executive Chris Coons.

“The biggest winner … may end up being Chris Coons,” said Dean Debnam, the polling firm’s chief executive officer.

GOP officials are once again concerned about whether an outsider can win in the general election, particularly a conservative activist such as Ms. O'Donnell.

“I’m confident that Mike Castle is going to be the next senator from Delaware,” said Tom Ross, chairman of the Delaware Republican Party. “But voters have a choice: Vote for Mike Castle or vote for Christine O'Donnell and be guaranteed that Chris Coons will be a rubber stamp for the Obama administration. It’s a very simple equation.”

The O’Donnell campaign did not respond to a request to comment.

Mr. Castle leads Mr. Coons 49 percent to 37 percent in the race for the seat left open when Joseph R. Biden Jr. became vice president. Ms. O'Donnell trails 36 percent to 46 percent, according to the most recent Rasmussen Reports poll.

The poll also shows the leader in the GOP primary to take the U.S. House seat held by Mr. Castle is conservative candidate Glen Urquhart. He leads 50 percent to 38 percent over establishment-backed candidate Michele Rollins.

While Mr. DeMint and Mrs. Palin have backed Ms. Donnelly, they support different candidates in the New Hampshire GOP Senate primary.

Over the weekend, Mr. DeMint endorsed conservative lawyer Ovide Lamontagne, whose late surge has cut the lead of New Hampshire GOP favorite and Palin-backed Kelly Ayotte, a former state attorney general.

A Public Polling Policy survey conducted during the same Sept. 11-12 period as the Delaware poll found Mrs. Ayotte had a slim lead of 37 percent compared with Mr. Lamontagne’s 30 percent. Mrs. Ayotte had been ahead by more than 30 points earlier this year. The other two candidates - William Binnie and Jim Bender - each had roughly 12 percent support. The winner will face Democrat Paul Hodes.

Mr. Rangel faces a challenge from state Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV in the Democratic primary race for the House seat that represents Harlem voters.

Despite facing 13 charges of ethics violations - including tax evasion - the House Ways and Means Committee chairman leads by roughly 18 points over Mr. Powell, whose campaign in the District 15 race also has been the subject of ethics questions. The 80-year-old Mr. Rangel also leads in fundraising, roughly $2.7 million to $126,000 for Mr. Powell, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission reports.

Republicans see House races in heavily Democratic New York in November as crucial in their effort to win 39 seats and retake control of the chamber. Pollsters project the GOP could win as many as six seats in an anti-incumbent voting wave.

In other key races Tuesday, former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is expected to easily defeat Palin-backed challenger and business investor Brian Murphy in the GOP primary. Mr. Ehrlich would then face Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, in a rematch of their 2006 race.

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty appears headed for defeat against challenger Vincent C. Gray, who is D.C. Council chairman. First-termer Mr. Fenty made strides to improve the city’s troubled school system but alienated many voters, especially those in poorer neighborhoods who felt ignored and dismissed. Mr. Gray leads in practically every poll.

In Massachusetts, Democratic incumbent Rep. Stephen F. Lynch cast a vote against health care reform and faces a tough primary challenge from progressive and union activist Mac D’Alessandro, who reportedly received at least $200,000 in support from the Service Employees International Union as it tries to oust House Democrats who didn’t support the health care act.

Along the state’s southern coast, including Cape Cod, state lawmaker Jeff Perry holds a slight lead against former state Treasurer Bill Malone in the GOP primary for the seat left open by retiring Rep. Bill Delahunt, a Democrat. Bolstered by Scott Brown’s surprise win earlier this year for Senate, Republicans think they can win the seat.

In Rhode Island, the Democratic primary for the open seat of retiring Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy features a close race among front-runner and Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline, businessman Anthony Gemma and state party Chairman Bill Lynch. The winner likely will face Republican state lawmaker John Loughlin II.

In Wisconsin’s GOP gubernatorial primary, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker has a slim lead over former Rep. Mark Neumann. They both hold single-digit leads over likely Democratic candidate Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, according to a recent Rasmussen Reports poll.

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