Few political analysts thought Christine O'Donnell, political neophyte and perennial outsider candidate, would defeat heavyweight, nine-time Rep. Michael N. Castle in the Delaware Republican Senate primary for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s former Senate seat. Against what initially seemed like insurmountable odds, Miss O'Donnell soundly beat Mr. Castle 53 percent to 47 percent.
This so-called "political impossibility" is a major victory for the Tea Party, adds luster to the kingmaking ability of Alaska's former Republican Gov. Sarah Palin, and shows the vote-getting strength of conservative endorsements from the likes of South Carolina's Republican Sen. Jim DeMint. Mr. Castle's "unexpected" defeat (unexpected by the inside-the-Beltway crowd), along with Joe Miller's surprise primary victory last month over Alaska's Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, is evidence that the grass-roots conservative political movement constitutes a riptide capable of dragging down established politicos and sweeping them out of office with unnerving force.
Those who lament a likely Democratic win in Delaware in November - which increases the odds against the Republicans of winning a majority in the Senate - don't understand the ferocity of ordinary citizens' anger at the way the "political class" has been destroying America. If Miss O'Donnell, a candidate with no government experience who provides her opponent with numerous angles with which to attack her, can pull off such a major upset, the political establishment's stronghold in Washington is obviously eroded and is on the verge of crashing down.
Declaring that she is "in this to win," Miss O'Donnell joined with the Tea Party Express in asking the National Republican Senatorial Committee to reverse its decision not to fund her efforts in the general election. NRSC executive director, Rob Jesmer, issued a less-than-gracious statement with tepid congratulations for Miss O'Donnell's victory "after a hard-fought primary campaign." Now, with Sharron Angle winning the GOP Senate nomination in Nevada earlier this year, party leaders face a challenging decision: Will they continue what Miss O'Donnell called "cannibalism," by flaunting their disdain for the GOP's base and holding onto the flotsam of its power as it gets swept out to sea?
Clearly, the "certified" political establishment has underestimated the Tea Party movement, which - all expectations to the contrary - has become a grass-roots powerhouse in American political life, despite attempts by professionals in both parties to marginalize and reduce it to an object of derision. Some have described the movement as generating "rabid enthusiasm among the GOP base, hostility from most others." Even now, the media spin is that Christine O'Donnell is a "a right-wing gadfly and serial debtor" and her "improbable victory" is evidence that an "angry, restive base" is "kicking out" those like Arlen Specter and Charlie Crist who are not "ideologically pure."
There is nothing new in this kind of angry sputtering: Social conservatives have been on the receiving end of this same kind of abuse by the know-it-all, big-money Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party for decades; they never relent in their smug condescension toward the pro-life Republicans, without whose votes they couldn't win an election for dog catcher.
Yet, the Rasmussen Reports survey in April indicated that 24 percent of the electorate self-identify as members of the Tea Party movement; a New York Times/CBS News poll indicates that 20 percent of Americans support the movement. That level of support has unnerved much of the political establishment, who have latched onto House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's description of the movement as more "AstroTurf" than "grass roots."
Blinded by her arrogant view that those ignorant, unenlightened, ordinary folks (the ones who cling to their guns and their Bibles) don't know what's good for them, Mrs. Pelosi, et al., clearly underestimate the public's anger at the content of the misnamed, "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" - Obamacare - with its prohibitive price tag and the process by which Obamacare was shoved down their throats. Nor do they understand the outrage that ordinary Americans and state officials - who will have the burden of implementing Obamacare - feel about the outrageous expansions of federal "stimulus" spending that have pushed the nation to the brink of financial disaster.
The Democratic leadership may also be underestimating Miss O'Donnell's chances of defeating their candidate in November. Bill Kristol is certainly right in his assessment that Miss O'Donnell is not Sarah Palin, but some think they are hearing the rumblings of a tectonic shift in the political terrain that will produce a tidal wave like we've not seen in our lifetime.
If so, a November upset is possible. The voters in Delaware have as much reason as the rest of the nation's voters to be fed up with "politics as usual." It is common knowledge in Delaware that Mr. Biden wants to see his old Senate seat occupied by his son, Beau, and voters are leery of a possible Democratic deal to make that happen. Plus, this election appears to be not just anti-Democrat but anti-incumbent of both stripes. Further, the good citizens of Delaware are being hit by the recession and staggering stock market just like everyone else. Who is to say that they won't prefer a candidate who is struggling financially over country-club candidates and "fat-cat politicians"?
So don't count the Tea Party movement out in Delaware. After all, as Miss O'Donnell said, the NRSC does not have a "winning track record," and the Tea Party, though new to the political game, has pulled off several stunning upset victories.
Janice Shaw Crouse, author of "Children at Risk" (Transaction, 2009), is executive director of Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye Institute.
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