Did the Tea Party movement just snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in Delaware?
In a word: Yes.
Just as wins by extreme right-wingers in Republican primaries in Nevada, Alaska and other states have renewed the hopes of Democrats in Senate races where they looked to be doomed, Delaware Republicans just ditched a seemingly certain November winner for a likely loser.
On a night when the Tea Party movement scored some big wins over candidates of the Republican establishment—in races for governor of New York and several key congressional seats—the most dramatic victory for the frenzied right came in Delaware, where Tea Party heroine Christine O’Donnell upset Congressman Mike Castle for the party’s Senate nod.
Former White House political czar Karl Rove, who describes the Republican nominee for the US Senate from that state, Christine O’Donnell, as someone who "says a lot of nutty things," was arguing that the GOP just lost a Senate race.
"We were looking at eight to nine seats in the Senate. We’re now looking at seven to eight in my opinion," Rove said Tuesday night. "This is not a race we are going to be able to win."
But consider those numbers: What Rove is saying is that, with the Delaware result, Republicans may have lost much more than the Senate race in a single state.
If Republicans were to win nine seats this year, they might well convince Lieberman—or Nebraska’s Ben Nelson—to caucus with them and create a majority. If they win seven or eight, the prospect of an actual takeover becomes far less likely.
So Rove, who certainly knows his numbers, is not simply talking about Delaware when he speaks of a shift from "looking at eight or nine seats" to "looking at seven or eight." He is talking about a serious blow to the possibility that Republicans might gain control of the Senate and effective veto power over President Obama’s initiatives.
To be sure, Democrats and many independent analysts might suggest that even the "seven or eight" figure inflates Republican prospects in this year’s Senate races. But there is simply no question that the Republican narrative for the 2010 cycle was rewritten Tuesday night—not by Democrats but by Republican primary voters.
This is a turn of events that has Democrats, who have not gotten many breaks this year, celebrating. And rightly so. The thought of running against Tea Partisans—in Delaware and nationally—is far more appealing than that of competing with mainstream Republicans like Mike Castle.