- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The “tea party” partied hearty on the last big night of primaries Tuesday.

In one of the most stunning results of the midterm season, marketing consultant Christine O’Donnell, backed with endorsements from tea party activists and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, became the latest “outsider” candidate to knock off an establishment-backed Republican by defeating Rep. Michael N. Castle in Delaware’s Senate primary.

In New Hampshire, another tea party-backed conservative, Ovide Lamontagne, held a steady lead over the establishment favorite, former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, in the state’s GOP Senate primary with about a quarter of the votes counted. No winner had been declared in the vote at presstime.

The big early story in the District of Columbia’s closely watched mayoral primary was the logistical breakdown, as new voting procedures and confusion at the polls meant that just a tiny fraction of the votes had been publicly recorded some three hours after the polls closed at 8 p.m.

And in New York City, scandal-tarred Democratic veteran Rep. Charles B. Rangel appeared to be surviving a rare primary challenge, holding a strong early lead in returns in his Harlem district.

In yet another tea party-engineered upset, businessman Carl Paladino was declared the winner over former GOP Rep. Rick Lazio in New York’s gubernatorial primary, and will take on Democratic state Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo.

The biggest shock, on a night when the District and seven states held primaries, came in Delaware. Once considered an underfunded fringe candidate with no chance to win, Ms. O’Donnell prevailed with 53 percent of the vote, compared with 47 percent for Mr. Castle.

“The common-sense men and women of Delaware are tired of the ‘same old’ coming out of Washington. They don’t want more of the same,” Ms. O’Donnell told a crowd of exhilarated supporters. “Well, we are not more of the same.”

Her win follows an almost equally unforeseen victory last month for tea party favorite Joe Miller in the Alaska Senate primary, ousting GOP incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has not yet ruled out a write-in bid. Mr. Castle, a nine-term House member and former governor who was re-elected two years ago with 61 percent of the vote, was considered a heavy favorite to win the GOP primary for the seat formerly held by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

The result could have major implications for GOP hopes of recapturing the Senate, as a Delaware race considered a near sure bet under Mr. Castle could be much tougher to win with the lesser-known, polarizing Ms. O’Donnell.

The primary winner faced unusually pointed attacks from the state GOP establishment about her campaign tactics and personal finances. Democrats, many of whom had privately ceded the general election to Mr. Castle, were elated by the upset.

“Delaware Republicans chose an ultra-right-wing extremist who is out of step with Delaware values,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Christine O’Donnell cares more about imposing an extreme social doctrine than addressing the challenges facing working people.”

But Ms. O’Donnell’s conservative positions caught fire among tea party activists in the Democratic-leaning state. Her campaign was further helped by a $250,000 commitment from the Tea Party Express, a California-based political action committee that has donated more than $2 million to conservative candidates in congressional races in the past year.

Ms. O’Donnell got another boost with an endorsement from Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, who this year already has backed outsiders who won in the Alaska, Florida, Kentucky and Nevada GOP primaries.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of Senate Republicans who worked to get Mr. Castle elected, offered a terse statement of congratulations to Ms. O’Donnell moments after she was declared the winner.

“We congratulate Christine ODonnell for her nomination this evening after a hard-fought primary campaign in Delaware,” said NRSC Executive Director Rob Jesmer.

In an unusually rough GOP primary, O’Donnell supporters have suggested the moderate Mr. Castle, 71, is so frail that he might die before finishing his Senate term, that he might switch parties and even floated rumors about his sexual orientation.

Mr. Castle and the state GOP responded with ads criticizing Ms. O’Donnell, 41, for lying about her education and record, leaving a trail of unpaid bills that included unsettled campaign debts, tax liens and a default on her mortgage, and using campaign finances for personal expenses.

“I am very proud of the integrity and the honesty of everyone who has been involved in my campaign,” a subdued Mr. Castle said. “The last several weeks have been spirited, shall we say.”

Ms. O’Donnell, during her victory speech, pleaded for the support of Castle voters.

“If those same people who fought against me work just as hard for me, we will win,” she said.

Ms. O’Donnell will face Democratic New Castle County Executive Chris Coons, 47, in November. Polls show the Democrat holds a comfortable lead over Ms. O’Donnell, but suggested he would have lost to Mr. Castle by double digits.

The Republican cross-currents in the New Hampshire race were not as clear, as Mrs. Ayotte enjoyed backing from Mrs. Palin, while other leading conservatives went with Mr. Lamontagne. But the former state attorney general was widely seen as the stronger candidate to hold the seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Judd Gregg.

Mr. Lamontagne, who also benefited from tea party support, held an early lead with 44 percent of the vote with about 20 percent of the precincts counted, while Mrs. Ayotte was second with 36 percent.

The winner will face Democratic Rep. Paul W. Hodes, who is giving up his seat in the House to run for the Senate.

In New York, Mr. Rangel hoped voters would reserve judgment on an ethics investigation and put him on track for a 21st term.

Mr. Rangel held an early lead late Tuesday over his principal primary challenger, Adam Clayton Powell IV, a state assemblyman whose father the incumbent beat 40 years ago. In the decades since, Mr. Rangel rose to become chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, a post he was forced to give up in the face of the ethics probe.

In Wisconsin’s Republican gubernatorial primary, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker held a 3 percentage-point lead over former Rep. Mark Neumann with 22 percent of the precincts counted.

In Rhode Island, Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline was declared the winner against three other Democratic primary candidates for the open House seat held by retiring Democratic Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy. Mr. Cicilline will face Republican state Rep. John Loughlin II.

Staff reporter Joseph Weber and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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