- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2010

As the electoral fog lifted after this week’s primaries, the Republican Party on Wednesday began the awkward task of reaching out to “tea party”-backed winners they previously shunned.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee enthusiastically endorsed Christine O'Donnell’s long-shot bid for the Senate, one day after the tea party favorite defeated party establishment candidate Rep. Michael N. Castle in Delaware’s GOP primary.

In New Hampshire, state officials certified former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte as winner of the Republican Senate nomination, defeating tea-party-backed conservative Ovide Lamontagne.

The NRSC, the fundraising arm of Senate Republicans, previously had a terse relationship with the “outsider” Ms. O'Donnell in recent months and worked hard to elect Mr. Castle, who had a double-digit polling lead in matchups with the Democratic candidate.

But after Ms. O'Donnell’s surprise 6-percentage-point victory over Mr. Castle in Tuesday’s primary, the committee quickly switched gears and said it fully supports the 41-year-old conservative, giving her campaign the maximum allowable donation of $42,000.

“We remain committed to holding Democrat nominee New Castle County Executive Chris Coons accountable this November, as we inform voters about his record of driving his county to the brink of bankruptcy and supporting his party’s reckless spending policies in Washington,” said NRSC Chairman Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.

Mr. Coons leads Ms. O'Donnell by double digits in the most recent one-on-one polls, forcing prognosticators to move the winner from the likely Republican column to likely Democrat. Republicans need 10 seats to gain a Senate majority, and unless the playing field changes dramatically they’ll have to win five of six races that are considered tossups. All six are currently held by Democrats.

“This is not a race we’re going to be able to win,” said Karl Rove, who was the principal political adviser in the administration of President George W. Bush and is now one of the leaders of a multimillion-dollar independent organization trying to fashion GOP majorities in Congress.

Democrats and the White House said the O’Donnell victory represented a party in turmoil.

“Last night showed that there is a very vociferous debate going on inside the Republican Party for the hearts and minds of Republican voters,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Mr. Gibbs said Republican squabbling will help Democrats stay competitive in races like the Delaware Senate contest, which Democrats had all but ceded to Mr. Castle until Ms. O'Donnell’s surge in recent weeks.

“There is no doubt, and I don’t think anybody would disagree, that intraparty Republican anger has changed the complexion of a number of races at a state and a district level,” he said. “And that has real-world, practical implications for the outcome of what happens in November.”

Seven weeks before Election Day, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that “turnout and enthusiasm are off the charts” across the nation and would benefit a resurgent GOP on Nov. 2.

Republicans must pick up 40 seats to win control of the House, and even prominent GOP strategists said Ms. O'Donnell’s victory would complicate their chances.

In a celebratory round of interviews, Ms. O'Donnell was having none of it.

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