Tea Party Candidates Not Guaranteed Nov. Win

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Tea Party candidates recorded several surprising wins in Republican primaries this year. But to get to Congress, they still have to win general elections. And that's getting tougher for some.


Tea Party candidates recorded several surprising wins in Republican primaries this year. But to get to Congress, they still have to win general elections, which is getting tougher for some.

NPRs Cokie Roberts joins us now, as she does most Mondays mornings.

Cokie, good morning Cokie.


INSKEEP: Im thinking, I guess, of the Tea Party candidate who won a Senate primary in Alaska, but who's not going to have a clear path to the general election, after all.

ROBERTS: Well, because the person he defeated, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, has announced that shes getting into the general election race as a write-in candidate. And that is not sitting so well with Republican leaders here in Washington.

Senator Mitch McConnell says hes supporting the official Republican nominee, Joe Miller the Tea Partier, and that Murkowski will be stripped of any role in the leadership for running against the official Republican candidate.

She's running as a write in, which is interesting, rather than an independent, to show that she's a Republican, not an independent. And succeeding in write in candidacy would be very hard thing to do.

The interesting part to me, though, Steve, is the Republicans don't see any need to be ambivalent about her loss. Because the guy who beat her, Joe Miller, is, at least at the moment, handily beating the Democrat in the latest polls. And that's true for a lot of these candidates who've been sort of clucked over as too far out of the mainstream to get elected.

It's true in Kentucky, it's true in Florida; Harry Reid is tied in Nevada, and more mainstream Republicans are up in other Democratic seats - Wisconsin, Arkansas, Indiana, Pennsylvania. So, the Republican leadership's not seen any reason to fret over these candidates.

INSKEEP: And they want the numbers. They want 51...


INSKEEP: ...senators if they can get it.

ROBERTS: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Are they likely to lose Alaska if you've got two Republicans, in effect, running in...

ROBERTS: No, at the moment it doesn't look that way at all, particularly since the Democratic candidate is not someone that was expected to win, so it was not recruited.

INSKEEP: Now, let's talk about one Republican nominee that the party seems uncomfortable with, or portions seem uncomfortable with - Christine O'Donnell, that won the primary in Delaware.

ROBERTS: Well, that is true and there the Democrat is leading in the polls at the moment. And Delaware is pretty much a Democratic state. O'Donnell probably realized that she's not quite ready for intense questioning but she claimed she had scheduling conflicts. She cancelled her appearances on a couple of Sunday talk shows.

But she did show up at what's called the Values Voters meeting, and she said the small elite don't get us. Now, see, that's something the Democrats have to worry about. Dismissing these folks makes them even more out of touch with voters who think all elected officials are out of touch. And the fact is anybody that's not in office has an advantage this year.

INSKEEP: Well, how likely are general election voters to back a Tea Party candidate on Election Day?

ROBERTS: Well, that's, you know, right now, what we're seeing is everybody has unfavorable views about everybody - they don't like the president; they don't like the Congress; they don't like the Democrats; they don't like the Republicans. But among likely voters, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, there's a more favorable view of the Tea Party than unfavorable. And the people who are strongly favorable of the Tea Party claim they're 90 percent certain to vote in November.

Now, you can't count on that, but even if that's close, it's a problem for the Democrats. These folks might be ready to trash the establishment Republicans, but they really hate the Democrats. Only 20 percent approve of the president, 14 percent of the Congress, 20 percent think Democrats represent their values or people like them, and they consider themselves conservatives, though they're evenly split between Republicans and Independents.

So, that's why, despite some critics like Karl Rove on Christine O'Donnell, you're seeing the Republican Party grit their teeth and embrace these candidates.

INSKEEP: Well, thanks very much. That's NPR's Cokie Roberts, who joins us every Monday morning.

And we want to mention that the engineer who's put Cokie's broadcast line on the air for years and years and years, he is retiring. Gary Henderson has brought you high-quality sound right here on NPR News since 1971.


And Gary and I were together for the Panama Canal treaty debates, which made history for NPR and for the United States Senate. Gary Henderson.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Long, long career. He's retiring, and if you've liked what you've heard on NPR, please join us in wishing Gary Henderson the very best.

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INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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