Tea Party GOP Senate Candidate Wins Big In Del.

The tea party movement is celebrating a major victory in Delaware. Conservative Christine O'Donnell has pulled off a stunning upset over nine-term Rep. Mike Castle in the Republican Senate primary. She'll face Democrat Chris Coons in November.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

The field of candidates for the November elections is essentially set now. Voters in seven states and the District of Columbia went to the polls yesterday, and Tea Party insurgents scored big wins in at least two primaries last night, including one Senate nomination. This brings their total to nine nominees for Senate so far, including two nominees who defeated incumbents.

The big surprise last night was Delaware, where a Sarah Palin-endorsed newcomer, Christine O'Donnell, beat out Delaware's longest-sitting, popular Republican Congressman Mike Castle.

Here's O'Donnell last night, issuing a challenge to the Republican Party.

Ms. CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (Republican Senatorial Candidate, Delaware): It will be hard work, but we can win. And if those same people who fought against me worked just as hard for me...

(Soundbite of cheering)

Ms. O'DONNELL: ...we will win.

WERTHEIMER: For more on the results, we turn to NPR's political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Mara, I guess the big question is: What happened in Delaware? And more important, what happens next?

MARA LIASSON: Well, what happened in Delaware: It was a very bad day for the Republican establishment and a great day for the Tea Parties. O'Donnell won decisively: 53 to 47. And, you know, Delaware was considered a sure pick-up for the Republicans in the fall. This was the seat that Vice-President Biden had held. His son, Beau Biden, decided not to run.

Mike Castle, who's a very moderate, very popular former governor of the small state, was considered a shoe-in. And then there was a late surge for Christine O'Donnell, who's a conservative and a perpetual candidate there. She got the endorsement of Sarah Palin. She got a lot of money from the Tea Party Express.

And the Republican establishment didn't just run against O'Donnell, they attacked her. They called her a fraud, and now they say they're not going to give her any money in the fall. And what this means is that the 10 seats that the Republicans need to get a Senate majority is going to be that much harder for them to get.

WERTHEIMER: But I cannot believe that the National Republican Party won't weigh in and give her some money. But let's move on to what other contests were significant last night.

LIASSON: Well, there was another blow to the Republican establishment in New York State, where businessman Carl Paladino - who had aligned himself with the Tea Parties - beat former Congressman Rick Lazio for the governor's nomination. There were races where the establishment held on. In New York, Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel, who's battling ethics charges, won his re-nomination battle against a crowded field of challengers.

We're still waiting for the results in New Hampshire's Republican Senate primary, where Kelly Ayotte - in this case, the Republican establishment candidate and the winner of the endorsement of Sarah Palin - was holding a very small lead against her Tea Party-supported rival, Ovide Lamontagne.

Inn the District of Columbia, the incumbent Democratic mayor, Adrian Fenty, lost. So in that case, there's a defeat for the Democratic establishment. Vincent Gray beat him. And in this Democratic city, that means that Gray will probably go on to win the mayor's race in the fall.

WERTHEIMER: So we've seen the show of Tea Party strength. But have we really seen much? How does it reflect in turnout? I mean, does this mean that the Tea Party can go on to win in some places that we're not expecting them to?

LIASSON: Well, overall, the Republican turnout was much, much higher this year in the primaries than the Democratic turnout. It's a sign of higher enthusiasm on the Republican side. Now, it's also true there were more contested Republican primaries than Democrats. But even in places like Colorado, where there was a contested Republican senatorial primary and a Democratic one, the Republican turnout was higher. So it's a very, very good sign for Republicans in the fall.

There still are big questions about the Tea Party that are unanswered, whether or not they end up being a source of energy to the Republican Party, or fielding candidates that are too far to the right to win general elections - as the Democrats hope and argue.

But that just isn't the case, because when you look at all the Tea Party candidates around the country, most of them are either even in the polls or running ahead - with the big exception of Delaware.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson.

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