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GOP establishment wins one Senate primary in N.H., loses one in Del.

September 15, 2010
  • Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Kelly Ayotte talks to supporters in Concord, N.H., Tuesday night. At left is her husband, Joe Daley.
Associated Press,

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.

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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 Castle 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.

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