A high-profile Republican lawmaker on Thursday sought to draw a distinction between the Tea Party and the GOP by casting it as an outsiders' movement, even though the two share similar viewpoints on some policy issues.
 
On the heels of Tea Party-backed candidate Christine O'Donnell's stunning upset of centrist Rep. Mike Castle in the Delaware GOP Senate primary, Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.) said the Tea Party is a "party of outside," while the GOP is an established political party.

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Asked on the "Imus in the Morning" show on Fox Business if he is "like the Tea Party," Issa replied, "Like me, yes. I'm not really one of them. It's part of the reality that once you're part of the establishment, no matter how much you try to bring down the man and do the things they would like to have and restore the Constitution - you name the issue - you're still an insider. It's a party of outside to a great extent right now."

Issa's remarks run counter to the notion Democrats have pushed throughout the midterm election season: that the Republican Party and the Tea Party are one and the same.

Democrats have seized on what they say are the extreme viewpoints of Tea Party-backed candidates who won GOP primaries, including O'Donnell, Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump urges GOP to vote against bill reauthorizing surveillance powers Sunday shows preview: States begin to reopen even as some areas in US see case counts increase Congress headed toward unemployment showdown MORE in Kentucky, to paint Republicans as being outside the mainstream.

They have also played up highly-contested primaries between Tea Party-backed candidates and establishment candidates as examples of intra-party tension within the GOP. In those races, Tea Party candidates have gone after their opponents by arguing they won't stand up on conservative principles, even though conventional wisdom gives the establishment candidates a better chance of winning in November.

Issa said that O'Donnell and New York GOP gubernatorial nominee Carl Paladino were not the "the conventional candidate[s] we would have chosen, but neither was I."

"I was a businessman who got tired of seeing politics run by professional politicians," he said. "Obviously the Delaware race was one in which you had a extremely moderate - plenty of other names used for them - that people thought was the best to win a state in which Republicans conventionally have a hard time winning."

Republicans leaders have played down any internal rifts, and made extensive gestures to anti-establishment grassroots Tea Partiers in an attempt to woo the loosely-affiliated groups as a voting base come November.

At the same time, the party has campaign actively against some Tea Party primary candidates, including O'Donnell.

The fifth-term congressman, who also serves as ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said that Tea Party candidates need to be judged on an individual basis and that the activist groups have a mixed group of members.

"I think we have to evaluate every candidate individually. And when it comes to the Tea Party, it's not a unified organization," he said. "There are some scoundrels in the middle of it, there are probably some crazies who couldn't get in the front door of a conventional party. But there are also some good hard-working Americans who have had enough. And they have particularly had enough with Republicans who have said they want smaller government" and don't deliver on the promise.