Christine O'Donnell's big win in Delaware sends message to Republican establishment

Victories by tea party candidates in Republican primaries are a cause for concern for GOP leaders, and reason to be hopeful for Democrats. (Sept. 15)
By Karen Tumulty
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 16, 2010; 3:40 AM

"Tea party" activists have been saying all along that their movement is about something more than winning elections. And as the bloody Republican primary season reaches an end, they have proved they really mean it.

Their parting shot at the Republican establishment was their loudest.

In defeating the GOP's strong prospect for picking up a Senate seat in Delaware - thereby dampening its chances of regaining a Senate majority - the tea party has delivered a clear message to the Republican establishment: You are not in charge.

"This is about changing the system," Christine O'Donnell, the tea party pick, said Tuesday night as she celebrated her stunning primary victory over Rep. Michael N. Castle.

Her upset was the biggest in a string of tea party wins this season over establishment-backed candidates in Alaska, Colorado, Kentucky, New York and Utah.

The end of the primaries normally is a time when parties try to close ranks, but O'Donnell's win fueled another spasm of recriminations.

After GOP strategist Karl Rove said Tuesday that O'Donnell was unelectable - echoing the assessment of, among others, Delaware Republican Party Chairman Tom Ross - he came under fire from a battalion of conservative commentators.

"I've never heard Karl so animated against a Democrat as he was against Christine O'Donnell last night," said Rush Limbaugh, whose radio show Rove had recently guest-hosted.

Meanwhile, the victorious candidate used a round of television interviews to blast a GOP establishment that she said was lazy and guilty of "political cannibalism" in its efforts to defeat her.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which had been silent about her win except for a tepid statement by Executive Director Rob Jesmer, quickly announced that it would be sending her a check for $42,000, the maximum allowable under the law.

In a statement, NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Tex.) said: "Let there be no mistake: The National Republican Senatorial Committee - and I personally as the committee's chairman - strongly stand by all of our Republican nominees, including Christine O'Donnell in Delaware."

O'Donnell's victory was not the only big surprise on Tuesday night.

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