- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 14, 2010

The chairman of the Democratic Party said Thursday that a slew of GOP “tea party” candidates nationwide has given his party a legitimate shot to win several races that Democrats largely had conceded.

“We’re going to win seats that we were going to lose six months ago because of the tea party,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine told reporters at a Washington breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

The former Virginia governor acknowledged that while Democrats must counter the enthusiasm that tea party candidates have generated with many voters, the conservative movement has pulled the Republican Party “farther and farther to the right.” Most political analysts expect Republicans to make major gains in congressional and gubernatorial races across the country in the Nov. 2 vote.

“It’s a party where there is pretty intense division between the tea party, which has the upper hand, and the institutional Republican Party,” he said.

The GOP “cannot dismiss one or two [tea party] candidates as an aberration. Instead, across the board they have candidates who are advocating policies out of the mainstream, which we think helps us overall making our message of [moving] forward vs. backwards.”

Delaware is the most striking example where the tea party appears to have resurrected Democratic hopes, after tea party-supported candidate Christine O’Donnell shocked establishment-backed Republican Rep. Michael N. Castle in last month’s Senate primary.

Democratic nominee Chris Coons, who was given little chance to defeat the popular Mr. Castle, now holds wide leads in most polls over Miss O’Donnell, who has been criticized even by GOP stalwarts like Karl Rove.

“We thought we would’ve had a very slim chance taking that Senate seat, but we see a much stronger opportunity there obviously,” Mr. Kaine said.

Delaware isn’t the only state where tea party-supported Republican nominees have given Democrats unanticipated chances to win races, the chairman said.

Democrats “had virtually zero chance” of capturing the open Senate seat in Kentucky until opthalmologist Rand Paul, a favorite of the tea party movement, won the Republican nomination over another establishment GOP candidate.

“I would still say that is an uphill run for us, but we would’ve given ourselves about a 10 percent chance six months ago,” Mr. Kaine said. “We can win that race.”

In Nevada, “we were looking at a very very difficult re-elect climate” for Democratic Sen. Harry Reid until Sharron Angle’s surprise GOP primary win.

Primary wins by tea party-backed Republican candidates in Senate races in Connecticut and Alaska, as well as the Illinois governor’s contest, also have helped Democratic candidates stay alive in races they otherwise would have faced extreme difficulty winning, Mr. Kaine said.

“We take all these races seriously… but there were races where we felt we had virtually no chance of winning six months ago and that we feel like we have a very legit chances to win now,” he said.

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