The next test for Tea Party: Running multiple campaigns in general election

After helping fuel Republican primary upsets in seven Senate seats across the country, the Tea Party faces a much tougher test — turning its attention to November’s general election, where the group will attempt to focus on several races at the same time.

“After we finish doing somersaults and back-flips over last night, the focus obviously shifts to November,” Tea Party Express spokesman Levi Russell said Wednesday.

It will be a drastically differently dynamic for the group, which proved so influential during the primary season in part because it was able to focus on just one race at a time.

Being faced with several high-profile Senate contests presents a major challenge to the Tea Party Express, which doesn’t appear to have the resources in terms of money or manpower to expend its energy in several states at once.

One thing going for the group, said Russell, is that over the course of the primary season, the number of states it worked in allowed it to lay down a grassroots base to build on ahead of November.

Even in the run-up to Tuesday, the Tea Party Express made a conscious choice to center its resources on Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. Even though Tea Party-backed Senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne narrowly lost in New Hampshire, Russell said the group had no regrets about ignoring that state’s Senate primary.

“Only having limited resources, we chose Delaware to be the focus because Mike Castle has been one of the worst offenders opposing Tea Party ideals over the years,” Russell said.

The group is in the process of strategizing and laying out an organizing plan ahead of November.

“All options are on the table as to how to best be effective in the general election,” said Russell. “But I can tell you that the momentum is on the side of the Tea Party right now, and I think that really widens up our options.”

— S.D.


Despite polls, Democrat doesn’t expect easy win over O’Donnell in Delaware

WILMINGTON, Del. — Democratic Senate candidate Chris Coons brushed aside suggestions Wednesday that Christine O’Donnell’s win in the Republican primary gives him an easy race this fall.

“We don’t take anything for granted,” he told reporters at Libby’s restaurant in downtown Wilmington, where Coons met with diners for some retail politicking.

O’Donnell shocked Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) Tuesday night, defeating the longtime lawmaker in a contentious Republican primary.

Most Republican strategists view O’Donnell as the weaker general-election opponent against Coons. Several news organizations shifted the race to “likely Democrat” from “likely Republican” after O’Donnell won the GOP nomination.

General-election polling has Coons up by double digits over O’Donnell in the race to fill Vice President Joe Biden’s former Senate seat.

Asked whether he agreed with the characterization that O’Donnell was too extreme for the state, Coons demurred Wednesday.

“That’s what the election is for on Nov. 2,” said Coons, who did acknowledge the general election will be “a different sort of race” than the one he was expecting.

Coons avoided any direct attacks on O’Donnell, but did characterize her as someone who “doesn’t represent the sorts of values” Delaware voters are looking for.

Coons said he was surprised by how nasty the Republican primary was, and that it did not reflect the sort of campaign he wanted to run.

“I don’t think voters respond well to personal attacks, and there was a lot of them from both campaigns,” said Coons. “If there are baseless personal attacks against me of the sort that we saw in the Republican primary, I’ll respond to them. But I’m not the sort of person who wants to get into that.”

Coons also said he phoned Castle on Tuesday night to “thank him for his years of service,” calling the longtime congressman a “good, decent and responsible public servant.”

Coons said he has not phoned O’Donnell but said he looks forward to greeting her at a candidate forum scheduled for Thursday night.

Coons also challenged O’Donnell to a series of debates up and down the state.

— S.D.


Senate majority leader: Coons,‘my pet,’ will win

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday predicted to The Hill that Delaware Senate candidate Chris Coons (D) will safely win the election against GOP nominee Christine O’Donnell.

Reid talked up the New Castle County executive following a memorial ceremony on the Capitol’s east steps to commemorate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The leader said Coons would have won even if Rep. Mike Castle (R) had prevailed over O’Donnell in the primary.

“I’m going to be very honest with you — Chris Coons, everybody knows him in the Democratic caucus. He’s my pet. He’s my favorite candidate,” Reid said.

“Let me tell you about him: A graduate of Yale Divinity School. Yale Law School. A two-time national debate champion. He represents two-thirds of the state now, in an elected capacity. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen him or heard him speak, but he is a dynamic speaker. I don’t mean loud or long; he’s a communicator. So that’s how I feel about Delaware. I’ve always thought Chris Coons is going to win. I told him that and I tried to get him to run. I’m glad he’s running. I just think the world of him. He’s my pet.”

Asked if he believed the Tea Party movement was hurting the Republican Party, Reid simply said, “Republicans have to decide that.”

Coons told The Ballot Box in June that he and Reid were becoming fast friends.

“He and I have developed a really great relationship. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised,” Coons said. “I didn’t know him before this.

“And we have these fairly long personal talks and he’s a very straight-up, engaging guy who’s very concerned about my family. We talked about values, about ‘How do you manage it?’ and balancing things.”

Coons didn’t expect to find the majority leader so personable, he said. “He’s a very gentle, gracious person.”

— J. Taylor Rushing and S.J.M.


Republicans get their candidate in the New Hampshire Senate race

New Hampshire Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte gave the Republican Party some good news Wednesday when she was declared the winner of that state’s GOP primary.

The New Hampshire secretary of state’s office announced Wednesday afternoon that Ayotte defeated Ovide Lamontagne, who ran on the Tea Party mantle.

Ayotte received 53,044 votes to Lamontagne’s 51,377. Lamontagne announced he would not pursue a recount.

Ayotte led in the polls before Tuesday’s vote, but as results come in the race was too close to call.

Lamontagne, the 1996 gubernatorial nominee, led in early returns Tuesday night. He made a big push in the final weeks of the campaign to tout his ties to the Tea Party movement, even though it gave him no financial support.

The final result was good news for the Republican Party, which suffered a blow Tuesday evening when Tea Party-backed Christine O’Donnell defeated its choice in Delaware’s GOP Senate primary.

Ayotte was backed by the state’s Republican establishment, led by retiring Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, who lent Ayotte his grassroots network of support.

The national party also backed Ayotte, who won an early endorsement and a late robo-call from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R).

Lamontagne picked up some key last-minute support from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who tweeted his endorsement of the candidate late last week.

He also talked up his support from conservative talk-radio host Laura Ingraham, whom he called “a strong supporter of our campaign.”

Lamontagne also highlighted support from RedState blogger Erick Erickson, who questioned on his blog why money and energy was focused on O’Donnell in Delaware and not Lamontagne in New Hampshire.

Ayotte faces Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) in November.

— S.D. and Emily Goodin