Democrats and Tea Party members both felt they had reason to celebrate. The two groups, usually separated by very different views of politics and the function of public officials, both watched the 2010 Delaware Republican Senate primary with greater interest than in past years. The reason? Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell.
O’Donnell, who was considered by many to have no real chance of success in the primary, made her mark Tuesday, September 14 as polls closed on a surprising run that found her at the top and the incumbent Republican Mike Castle out in the cold.
But is her come-from-nowhere victory really good news for Republicans? The Party hoped for renewed control of the Senate come November. Now they’re not so sure it can happen. With O’Donnell, a conservative activist 26 points behind Democratic nominee Chris Coons (according to a poll by PPP), they fear it may be too big a gap to bridge in the scant two months until the general election. In a politically moderate state, with 31 percent of Delaware‘s population concerned that she’s not fit to hold office, Democrats can hardly hide their glee.
Delaware Republican party members stated Wednesday that they would not fund O’Connell’s bid for the state senate, but she’s not worried about that, nor does she see it as a set-back, since the established Republican Party didn’t back her to begin with. Her primary financing for the election Tuesday was the Tea Party Express. They gave her $250,000 to give her a last minute boost. It worked.
Her future financial concerns seem to be gone, too. After hearing that she could expect nothing from her own party, conservative news commentator Rush Limbaugh challenged his listeners to contribute only $1 each to her campaign. Within 24 hours O’Connell raised $1 million without even trying. With a second challenge by the radio celebrity for another million on the second day of contributions, it remains to be seen what will happen.
One thing is for sure, though: Republicans and Democrats alike are paying attention to what’s happening in this small New England state, and in other places where Tea Party candidates have raised political eyebrows. O’Connell is just another in a line of people whose political lives were changed by the tea party rallies held across the country. Voters dissatisfied with the direction of ‘established’ parties came together to discuss, dissect and decide what could be done to make a difference. The rallies grew into something more, and organizers hope to see them continue to move forward, changing the face of the nation.
“It’s a wake-up call,” said Representative Chris Von Hollin (D-MD) during an interview on CNN. And, while he didn’t say it, many feel this should be a wake-up call for both major political parties.
Dissatisfied with the “politics as usual” and the “old boy system” in Washington, conservatives are casting their eyes, and their votes, in new and surprising directions. Primaries started in the spring, and O’Connell is the eighth tea party candidate to slip into a spot expected to be held by a candidate backed by the GOP.
Joe Miller (Alaska), backed by both the tea party and Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle (Nevada), Rand Paul (Kentucky) and Florida’s Marco Rubio have all surprised political experts by taking spots expected to be won by more experienced Republicans.
“Replacing Rinos” could become a tea party motto. Moderate republicans, called RINOs by Limbaugh and his followers, are under fire. Siding over and over with Democrats and their policies, they have been dubbed “Republican In Name Only”. They seem to be getting the boot.
"They have a losing track record," O'Donnell told CNN Tuesday night. "If they're too lazy to put in the effort that we need to win, then so be it."