- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2010

The “tea party” movement that staged upset midterm victories from the rugged West to the Deep South faces tough challenges next month in the Mid-Atlantic states of Maryland and Delaware — Democratic strongholds where more established, well-funded candidates have big leads in the marquee races.

In Maryland, investor and GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Murphy has a Sarah Palin endorsement and support from one tea party group — the Maryland Society of Patriots.

But former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is expected to easily win the Sept. 14 Republican primary, then face Gov. Martin O’Malley, the Democratic incumbent, in a rematch of the 2006 contest.

Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. O’Malley are now essentially tied at 44.5 percent with just 3 percent going to the remaining candidates, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll last week.

Tea party candidates have lost other primaries or now trail in general election polls, but the Mid-Atlantic has its own circumstance.

“The South and West are notoriously suspicious of Washington,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “The Mid-Atlantic has more liberal states.”

He said Mr. Ehrlich is among the Republican candidates who are likely better off without anti-establishment endorsements because registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans nearly 3-to-1 in Maryland.

“The only way Ehrlich can win in November is to prevail upon voters that he’s a moderate,” Mr. Sabato said.

In Delaware, grass-roots Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell faces Rep. Michael N. Castle, a Republican who has roughly $3 million in campaign funds and a political career that dates back to his election to the state General Assembly in 1966.

Ms. O’Donnell and Mr. Murphy have campaigned in part on the grass-roots issues that matter to voters who live outside major cities.

Mr. Murphy has taken up the issue of illegal immigration and has the support of a popular sheriff who wants his get-tough immigration program to be implemented statewide.

Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins — who has turned over roughly 600 illegal immigrants to federal agents for deportation proceedings — startled the state GOP establishment when he announced his support for Mr. Murphy during a recent volunteer fire company carnival.

Mr. Murphy said internal polls show that his message of a balanced budget, no tax increases and jobs reaches cities and suburbs. “It resonates with everybody,” he said. “It’s all the same. People get it.”

Meanwhile, Ms. O’Donnell’s strategy includes traveling south from the city of Wilmington — where about 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies have corporate headquarters — to Sussex County, where farmers, outdoorsmen and other conservative voters are concerned about gun rights and mostly oppose the Obama administration’s multibillion-dollar corporate bailouts.

Ms. O’Donnell, backed by the Tea Party Express, is critical of Mr. Castle’s corporate backing and his frequent voting with Democrats in Congress, even in Delaware, which is home to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and gave roughly 63 percent of the state’s presidential vote to Barack Obama in 2008.

“Republicans are tired of having to hold their nose and go vote for Mike Castle,” said Ms. O’Donnell, who lost to Mr. Biden in 2008 and is still raising money for TV ads. “People don’t have to anymore.”

The primary is Sept. 14, and the winner likely will face County Executive Chris Coons, a Democrat, for the seat vacated by Mr. Biden.

Polls showing that Mr. Castle has less than 50 percent of the vote is another example that Republicans in Washington have failed to understand why voters have backed non-establishment, tea party candidates such as Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky, Ms. O’Donnell said.

She also has tried to inject urgency into her campaign by telling voters that the November winner will be immediately seated in Congress and that she, unlike Mr. Castle, would vote against cap-and-trade legislation.

“I’ll do more than vote,” she said. “I’ll advocate against it.”

A Castle staffer said the congressman has publicly stated that he is opposed to considering controversial legislation during a lame-duck session.

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