Last week, insurgent Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell narrowly defeated Republican Congressman Mike Castle in the party’s Delaware primary. Castle, a former governor of the Delaware and the state’s only member in the House of Representatives, was the preferred candidate of party leaders. As a social moderate, his politics were more appealing to a state that was carried by President Barack Obama by 15 percentage points in the 2008 election.
While O’Donnell has never held a political office and has socially conservative views, she was able to capitalize on a trend sweeping through Republican Senate primaries across the country.
Eight incumbent or party endorsed Republican politicians have fell to outsider candidates related to the Tea Party movement. The movement arose out of Republican Congressman Ron Paul’s presidential campaign, in which the term was used to describe a fundraiser. Paul’s campaign emphasized the virtues of small government and fiscal conservatism, tenants that the Tea Party movement has adopted.
Supporters and candidates that endorse the movement are opposed to Obama’s $787 billion stimulus and want to repeal his health care package passed earlier this year. They see these statutes as representative of a government that is spending well beyond its means and is hindering individual freedom and free enterprise. As such, they see Washington insiders as complicit in the policies which explode government influence in citizen’s daily lives.
This movement has ousted several high profile Republicans including Sen. Arlen Specter, Sen. Robert Bennett and Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Specter switched parties, as did Governor Charlie Crist of Florida, who is now running as an Independent after falling in the polls to Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio in the Republican primary. Bennett and Murkowski, along with party establishment picks in five other states, have lost to primary challengers affiliated with the Tea Party movement.
Larry Schwab, a professor of political science at John Carroll University, points out that the general trend of the party of the President losing seats in midterm elections, the sluggish economy, and that most of these challenges are occurring in states that would likely elect a Republican contribute to lessen the ability of Democrats to portray their opponents as out of the mainstream.
“The important thing is that they are Republicans,” said Schwab. All of these aforementioned characteristics play into the hands of the opposition party.
Despite this, Schwab also points out that a few of these races may have a significant impact on the ability of the Republicans to take back the senate.
“Political commentators like Charlie Cook … have changed the status of the Senate races in Nevada and Delaware,” said Schwab.
Prior to Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle winning the Republican primary, many thought the race would be won by Republicans. Now, however, it’s a toss up. Similarly, in Delaware the Democratic candidate, Chris Coons, is favored over O’Donnell whereas Castle was a strong favorite over Coons. The difference in these races could prevent the GOP from gaining the 10 needed seats in the Senate in order to gain control in that body.
While Tea Party candidates have made an impact on the 2010 congressional elections, it is largely tempered by the trends of recent history and the poor economy. The movement has seemed to take hold in predominantly Republican leaning states, but in some states such as Nevada and Delaware is making a critical impact on the elections in those states.