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Former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte was certified the winner of the Republican Senate primary by state election officials on Wednesday to the relief of party officials in Washington still coming to grips with the defeat of their preferred candidate in a separate race in Delaware.
Ayotte defeated Ovide Lamontagne by 1,667 votes in a multi-candidate field, according to a tally released by the New Hampshire secretary of state, and will take on Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes in the general election. She enjoyed the support of party officials as well as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and overcame her rival's claim that he was the real conservative in the race.
By contrast, primary winner Christine O'Donnell defeated Rep. Mike Castle in Delaware Tuesday night despite being repeatedly assailed by GOP officials as unelectable.
"There are a lot of people who are rallying behind me who are frustrated that the Republican Party has lost its way," said O'Donnell, who won the Delaware nomination with the support of Palin and tea party activists and now enters the fall campaign as an underdog to Democrat Chris Coons.
Republican officials had said while the votes were being counted Tuesday night that the party would not step in to fund her campaign, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee initially greeted her victory with a brief statement issued in the name of an aide rather than the customary praise from Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas who heads the group.
But in a statement released at midday, Cornyn said he had offered O'Donnell his personal congratulations and the organization would send her campaign a check for $42,000, the maximum it is allowed under the law for expenses that may be officially coordinated with the candidates.
Cornyn was vague on whether the party committee would also launch the type of independent effort that is already under way in Kentucky and is reserved for the most competitive races. Such efforts can run into millions of dollars in races in states where the cost of television advertising is high.
The Senate primaries in New Hampshire and Delaware were the featured contests of the last hurrah of a turbulent primary season in which the political environment seemed to grow steadily more friendly to Republicans, despite a series of upsets sprung by tea party-backed challengers.
The Republicans need a gain of 10 seats to win control of the Senate this fall, and 40 seats to take a majority in the House.
"Turnout and enthusiasm are off the charts because Americans have had enough of a Congress and an administration who simply refuse to listen to Americans who are speaking out," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
In New York, tea party ally Carl Paladino dealt another shock to the GOP establishment, defeating former Rep. Rick Lazio in the race for the party's nomination for governor. Paladino will face state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo.
Party leaders reacted with a chill to O'Donnell's win over veteran Rep. Mike Castle, whom they had recruited as the party's only chance of winning the Senate seat long held by Vice President Joe Biden.
Castle said through a spokeswoman he does not intend to support O'Donnell in the fall.
"This is not a race we're going to be able to win," said Karl Rove, who was the principal political adviser to former President George W. Bush as well one of the leaders of a multimillion-dollar independent organization trying to fashion GOP majorities in Congress.
On Wednesday, O'Donnell accused the party of "Republican cannibalism."
"We have to rise above this nastiness and unify for the greater good, because there's a lot of work to be done and there are a lot of people who want to get involved if the Republican Party would," O'Donnell said in an interview with The Associated Press.
O'Donnell said she hopes the party will unite to help her win in November, but added, "It is doable without the support of the Republican Party." She also made the rounds of national television interviews.
Democratic National Committee chief Tim Kaine told NBC's "Today" on Wednesday that O'Donnell's win was good for Democrats and a further sign of the "civil war" in the Republican party.
"That creates opportunities for us," he said. "The O'Donnell win shows that moderate Republican voters are being forced from their party and will "have to look long and hard before supporting these candidates," Kaine said.
Speaking Tuesday night at an Elks Lodge in Dover, Del., O'Donnell thanked Palin for her endorsement as well as the Tea Party Express, a California political committee that spent at least $237,000 to help her defeat Castle, a moderate and a fixture in Delaware politics for a generation.
Republican Party officials who saw Castle as their only hope for winning the Delaware seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden made clear they will not provide funding for O'Donnell in the general election. The Republican statechairman, Tom Ross, has said O'Donnell "could not be elected dogcatcher," and records surfaced during the campaign showing that the IRS had once slapped a lien against her and that her house had been headed for foreclosure. She also claimed - falsely - to have carried two of the state's counties in a race against Biden six years ago.
In Minneapolis, former President Bill Clinton said the Republican Party is pushing out pragmatic voices in favor of candidates that make former President George W. Bush "look like a liberal."
O'Donnell has said she would work in Congress to repeal President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. She was also a spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian group that opposes abortion, including in the case of rape, and supports abstinence-only sex education.
The victories by O'Donnell and Paladino are the latest evidence of the influence of the tea party movement, a loose-knit coalition of community groups that advocate limited government, tightfisted spending and free markets.
Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who was aided by spending by the Tea Party Express, became an overnight Republican star in January when he claimed the seat held for decades by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Brown's win set the stage for a year of outsider candidates, and the tea party has scored prominent primary election wins in Utah, Nevada, Kentucky, Colorado and Alaska.
But can they win in November?
O'Donnell and other tea party candidates have called for an abrupt turn toward austere government, and the question will be how far voters want to go to reshape Washington.
The movement's spirited rallies have attracted tens of thousands of people, and they've made their presence felt at the polls: Republican turnout in the primary season has well outpaced Democratic. Even in races where the tea party has been less visible, its influence is evident in candidates' arguments. In the California race for governor, Democrat Jerry Brown is depicting himself as a tax-cutter who keeps his eye on the bottom line.
But for all its enthusiasm, the tea party has elevated sometimes unpolished or flawed candidates who - in some cases - will be more vulnerable in November, particularly in states or districts that are more moderate. The movement has also opened fissures with the GOP establishment. In Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was defeated by tea party favorite Joe Miller, is considering a write-in candidacy and says the Alaska Republican party was "hijacked" by the Tea Party Express, which she calls an "extremist group." The committee, based in California, endorsed Miller and ran ads supporting him.
For the GOP, the tea party "is a mixed blessing," said Bill Whalen, a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution.
The loosely connected movement, which took shape in early 2009 in reaction to bailouts and rising government debt, has no central organization that endorses candidates. There are thousands of local chapters, some of which are tethered to national groups.
Tea party candidates have been aided by support from conservative political committees that share the movement's limited government, free market agenda, including the Tea Party Express, FreedomWorks, Club for Growth and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund.
The financial arm of the Tea Party Express - the Our Country Deserves Better PAC - has spent about $1.6 million in advertising and mailings in a handful of races, including $237,000 in Delaware. It pumped $588,000 into the GOP primary in Alaska to lift Miller over Murkowski.
The Tea Party Express' biggest investment has been in Nevada, where it has spent $790,000 on Angle's behalf. It also spent about $350,000 in Massachusetts to help Brown win.
This program aired on September 15, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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