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Electable or Not, Tea Party Candidates Surge in Final Round of Primaries

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The 2010 primary season is ending with a blast of people power that recalls Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign -- except this time the fired-up grassroots are conservatives instead of liberals. Candidates blessed by the Republican establishment are under threat this week from upstart "outsiders" and primary voters who care more about ideology than electability.

The latest establishment Republicans on the line include moderate nine-term Rep. Michael Castle of Delaware and a former New Hampshire attorney general, Kelly Ayotte, in Senate primaries, and former Rep. Rick Lazio in New York's gubernatorial primary.

Already this season, Sens. Bob Bennett of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have lost out to Tea Party favorites Mike Lee and Joe Miller, respectively. Another Tea Party pick, Ron Johnson, is expected to win the Senate nomination this week in Wisconsin. Earlier Tea Party winners include Senate nominees Ken Buck of Colorado, Marco Rubio of Florida, Sharron Angle of Nevada and Rand Paul of Kentucky, and gubernatorial nominees Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Rick Perry of Texas and Dan Maes of Colorado.

Though there are primaries Tuesday in the District of Columbia and seven states -- Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin -- the marquee race is in Delaware. Supporters of both Castle and Christine O'Donnell, his Tea Party-backed rival, are trying to gin up their voters by calling the outcome critical to which party controls the Senate. "This one vote could decide the direction of the nation," blogger Frank Knotts wrote at the O'Donnell-friendly Web site

Read Poll Watch's round-up of the latest surveys of races in Delaware, New Hampshire, New York and Wisconsin

Castle is the type of Republican who drives conservatives around the bend. He had a 56 percent rating from the American Conservative Union last year -- almost identical to his 55 percent rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action. He supported the 2009 climate bill that limited pollution by capping carbon emissions, and this year he voted for the new law reforming financial regulations. The Delaware GOP and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey are among his backers.

O'Donnell's team calls Castle "King RINO" -- that is, Republican In Name Only. She has received endorsements from major interest groups and leading conservatives, including the Tea Party Express, Sarah Palin, the National Rifle Association and Sen. Jim DeMint. Yet she and her camp have been associated with so many controversies that many Republicans consider her unelectable. Her chief detractors are the state GOP and other conservatives. Republican State Party Chairman Tom Ross referred Monday, for example, to her "long series of dishonest and ethically questionable actions."

Among other things, O'Donnell claimed falsely to have won two of the state's three counties against Joe Biden in the 2008 Senate race; she also claimed falsely to have a 1993 degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University (she received the degree earlier this month after paying tuition bills from the 1990s and finishing an additional class).

O'Donnell's finances are irregular, especially for a political candidate. As The News Journal of Wilmington summarized, "Public records show O'Donnell has no steady income, no savings, no investments and owns no property." She reported income of only $5,800 last year. Her mortgage was almost foreclosed in 2008 and this year the IRS filed a lien against her for unpaid income taxes. Also noteworthy: She said her political enemies lurk outside her house, she is against masturbation, and in 2005, claiming mental anguish, she filed a $6.95 million lawsuit accusing a conservative group of demoting her because she is a woman.

"She is certainly far from perfect (who is?). But I think nine terms are enough for duck-and-hide, cap-and-tax liberal Republican Mike Castle," conservative columnist Michelle Malkin wrote Monday. She said Castle's voting record makes him the untrustworthy candidate.

As Delaware Republicans slug it out, Democrats are trying to contain their ebullience about O'Donnell's rise. Polls show their Senate pick, New Castle County Executive Chris Coons, would trail Castle in a general election but win handily against O'Donnell.

In New Hampshire, Ayotte is backed by Palin and Republicans in Washington, including retiring Sen. Judd Gregg. An early frontrunner, she went into the primary only slightly ahead of Tea Party favorite Ovide Lamontagne, a lawyer, former state board of education chairman and 1996 GOP gubernatorial nominee.

Who is the "true conservative" in the race? Palin recorded a robocall saying it's Ayotte, but radio host Laura Ingraham says it's Lamontagne, who wants to eliminate parts of the federal government. His other backers include DeMint, Steve Forbes, the conservative and influential New Hampshire Union Leader, and Liberty Central, a Tea Party group founded by Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Ayotte served as attorney general, an appointive post, for both a Republican governor and a Democratic governor. Add to that her lack of campaign experience and voting record, and some conservatives are wary. "She's adopted every appropriate conservative position," said Dean Spiliotes, a blogger and political science professor based in Manchester. "The question all along has been is she authentic. Nobody really knows."

The splintered New Hampshire field also includes wealthy businessman Bill Binnie, a race car driver who owns a country club and a race-car team, supports abortion rights and has sunk several million dollars into the campaign; and businessman Jim Bender. Binnie used much of his money to attack Ayotte, leaving an opening for Lamontagne "to pick up the pieces," as University of New Hampshire politics analyst Dante Scala put it. The expected Democratic nominee is Rep. Paul Hodes.

There is even a Tea Party dynamic in New York. A weekend poll of the GOP gubernatorial primary showed former Rep. Rick Lazio, the onetime front-runner, even with Buffalo real estate developer Carl Paladino, who has backing from a number of Tea Party groups in the state. The winner faces Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who has a commanding lead in polling for the general election.

The Tea Party is not surging everywhere. The movement -- and Palin -- tapped investor Brian Murphy in the Maryland governor's race, for instance, but moderate former governor Bob Ehrlich is expected to prevail. Still, there's no question that the Tea Party has made its presence felt in Tuesday's final round of primaries, and has an even shot at adding more nominees to its already impressive season tally.

(This story has been updated since initial publication to correct the number of states holding Sept. 14 primaries)

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With Dems sinking so fast, even the support from within their own party, why would anyone believe Tea Party candidates are unelectable?

September 15 2010 at 6:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

10 men met daily for beer and split the $100 bill as they pay taxes. The poorest 4 paid nothing, the 5th $1, the 6th $3, the 7th $7, the 8th $12, the 9th $18, the 10th $59. One day the owner reduced the bill by $20 for such good customers. They couldn't split the reduction equally, because man #5 & #6 would then get paid to drink. So, they reduced it in proportion to taxes. The poorest 4 still drank free, #5 now also paid nothing (100% savings), #6 now paid $2 (33% savings), #7 $5 (28% savings), #8 $9 (25% savings, #9 $14 (22% savings), and #10 $49 (16% savings). Later, the 6th man complained that the 10th saved $10 but he only $1, saying "He got 10 times more than me". The 7th said, "Yeah I only got $2. The bottom 4 said, "We didn't get anything, the system exploits the poor". Feeling taken advantage of, the 10th man went overseas to drink. The remaining 9 men then found they didn't have enough between them to cover half the bill. And that is how our tax system works. David Kamerschen, Ph.D., Professor of Economics

September 15 2010 at 1:31 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Doug Prater

Obviously the writer doesn't realize just how serious the voters are. If the Tea Party cantidates can win primaries they will win elections. The establishment in Washington is in for a rude awakening that is long over due. this is only the beginning of "WE THE PEOPLE" holding politicians accountable and making them represent us. WE are the Government, not the elite!

September 14 2010 at 10:51 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

I see many of you didn't get it. That part about electable or not? Enjoy the moment, though. Come November, I feel pretty opimistic that everyone in America, especially the Independents, will sort out fact from fiction. Obama has lowered taxes for the middle-class moreso than any other president. Gains made by the passion of the moment will soon fade away. We look forward to many more victories.

September 14 2010 at 10:33 PM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to vobox3343's comment

I remember last election when they said Reps had lost their way, lost their voice. The Tea Party is about America waking up and everyone finding their voice. Americans are tired of the arrogance, tired of being treated like sheep. I will vote for Dem or Rep, as long as they're not incumbents. Absolute power has corrupted absolutely. We still have the best system in the world, we need to keep it that way by using our voice, and not allowing someone tell us how to vote, or how to feel. (dems and reps alike).

September 15 2010 at 8:47 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Kenneth Krueger

Vobox, Obama didnt reduce anybodies taxes my friend, That's why he now wants to keep the changes President Bush made for the middle class. Get a grip

September 15 2010 at 1:35 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Sheila: We already have some core 'safety net' social programs. We can afford no more. BTW, if that's what they are teaching in your econ courses, I would start looking at other schools. Try the Wharton School at U. of P. That certainly is NOT the definition of capitalism, except perhaps at Berkley. Dr. G.

September 14 2010 at 8:42 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cruisedoc's comment

Cruisedoc, those grate SNSP your referenced, are they the reason hunger levels with children in the U.S. is at its highest level. If you recall we cut the bottom out of most of those safety net social programs years ago when the economy was doing good. We Did not have the forward thinking to see a downturn, and what would happen when those programs were not in place. I guess some of us care about people and some of us dont.

September 15 2010 at 9:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The Tea Party candidates are expressing a belief that DC has lost tract of their interests. Presidents are allowed to start wars to avenge family members. Healthcare companies sell policies, then cancel them when you get sick. Mortgage companies rip off Americans in their quest for greed. Compamies move jobs overseas to save a buck and still get tax breaks. Hey maybe the government is broken, but it is the only government we have. T-Baggers scream that socialism is taking over the US. Any government program that is funded or subsidized by the government is considered to be "socialist". Your public roads system is socialism, along with the public school system, public arenas.., stadiums, social security, medicare....these are programs that have made the US the great country it is today. You see old people with signs that say no to socialism and keep your hands off my medicare. People should find out exactly what socialism is before they oppose it. These are not agendas to take over the US government but programs that made America great. Without these socislist programs the US might look like Somalia.

September 14 2010 at 8:08 PM Report abuse -12 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to roperbingobabe's comment

As we learn in economics, no country can be pure capitalism or socialism. Our country tries to be a capitalitic society, but that would be like monopoly because the definition of "capitalism is more and more money into fewer and fewer hands". The definition of "Socialism is wealth to the people." Bush's cowboy capitalism has ruin our country. We need a little socialism. too.

September 14 2010 at 8:34 PM Report abuse -10 rate up rate down Reply

gbwills:After all these years some of you out there must have come to realize that the Democrats, Republicans, or the Republicrats are all controlled by the same oligarchy of special interest and a foreign lobby that control Washington. Before a candidate even gets to the point where we are able to vote on him or her they are vetted by this oligarchy and have already got their marching orders. The election process has nothing to do with serving the interest of the American people, it is all about maintaining control by this oligarchy for their benefit and at the expense of the middle class. The American people have become sheep easily lead by a combination of lies and spin fed to them by a Media that is controlled by this oligarchy. When will you finally wake up the whole election process is designed to give the American people the illusion that they have some say in their Government, but be assured it is an illusion

September 14 2010 at 7:57 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to longanman's comment

Isn't that the way it is for most all countries? Many 3rd world countries have about 200 families ruling. Are we any different? Food for thought.

September 14 2010 at 8:45 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Mr. Reynolds

No one is scared of the Tea Party. What we are scared of is America being taken over by a bunch of militia loving, gun totting, Klan sympathizing, closet racist, backwoods and backwards people who want to set us back to the 30's. I wonder where were these people when Bush was in office and where will they be if a person of color is no longer in office. Please please youth of America, VOTE so that we don't have to let these people ruin our country.

September 14 2010 at 7:57 PM Report abuse -23 rate up rate down Reply

flpd180ret- stop exclsively watching only fox news and lisening to rush on the radio, the country is biggerhan that

September 14 2010 at 7:56 PM Report abuse -9 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cttjos's comment

And what cttjos, start watching Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow or Ed Schultz on MSNBC? Liberal NPR, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN? CNN had one moderate and that was Lou Dobbs and they got rid of him last year. They didn't like that he was in favor of a secure border.

September 14 2010 at 9:35 PM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply

At first the Media tried to hijack the Tea Party movement saying it was a Republican initiative a conservative statement which it is not. Also it is not a Religious right movement. Anyone that says it is either one is lying. It is a protest against a corrupt Washington. A system that is controlled by a oligarchy of special interest and a foreign lobby. A government that does not represent the interest of the middle class but rather exploits them for the benefit of this oligarchy. It is a movement of disenfranchised Americans, Republican, Democrats, and Republicrats all fed up with a system that does not represent their interest. Washington is corrupt and incompetent and no one there is ever held accountable. Washington and this oligarchy will do everything in their power to derail and sabotage this movement. Those that believe in this movement must be vigilant and not let this happen. Our form of government is corrupt, unresponsive, and no one is ever held accountable it needs to be changed to a more transparent and representative form, one that truly represents the interest of the American people. Vote all the bums out.

September 14 2010 at 7:52 PM Report abuse +15 rate up rate down Reply

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