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Today’s Primaries a Final Test for Tea Party Candidates « The Washington Independent

Today’s the last primary day of this election cycle, and the narrative turns out to be a familiar one: will tea party candidates trump their GOP establishment rivals today, and if so, will it better the chances of Democrats winning in November?

The two most closely watched races will be in Delaware and in New Hampshire. In Delaware, tea party Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell looked to be stumbling in her race against Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) before getting some important endorsements and even more important polling numbers this weekend. In New Hampshire, long time GOP favorite Kelly Ayotte is facing some heat from attorney Ovide Lamontagne, who snagged an endorsement from tea party celeb Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) last week.

The story for November is the same in both races: Castle and Ayotte look like easy favorites to win their respective Senate seats, while O’Donnell and Lamontagne would turn the races into toss ups, at best, pushing the Republicans that much further away from capturing the Senate.

The primaries — which are also taking place in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia — feature tea party candidates on the GOP primary ballot in New York and Wisconsin as well, prompting the Wall Street Journal to question whether the whole insurgent movement is working out so well for Republicans after all:

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, chairman of the GOP’s gubernatorial campaign committee, said the party will benefit from keeping the tea party within its ranks.

“It would have been far, far, far worse if tea party candidates had decided to run as independents,” he told reporters last week. “I hope they would continue in the next cycle to run as Republicans, and I believe they will, because I believe the evidence is clear that they got a fair shake. They were welcomed and they participated, and in some places won primaries.”

The tea party movement has clearly played a big role in generating the “enthusiasm gap” between Republicans and Democrats — one of the primary factors that pollsters have been pointing ominously towards when they make predictions about big Republican gains in the fall. But then there are the numerous times that the movement has propelled fringe candidates who might ultimately hurt their party’s chances to the forefront — candidates like today’s New York GOP gubernatorial hopeful Carl Paladino:

In New York, some Republicans give Carl Paladino, a real-estate millionaire, little chance of winning the governor’s race if he beats former Rep. Rick Lazio for the GOP nomination. Mr. Paladino’s self-funding campaign has gained attention for his denunciations of both political parties and for such proposals as using empty prisons to train welfare recipients and the unemployed in new job skills and “personal hygiene.”

“The concern is that Paladino, because of his past statements, will be characterized as being not ready to be governor,” said John Faso, the last Republican nominee for governor in New York. “If Republicans are sullied or embarrassed by a candidate at the top of the ticket, then you could adversely affect turnout.”

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