Video: Dems, GOP struggle to deal with primary upsets

  1. Transcript of: Dems, GOP struggle to deal with primary upsets

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Now we turn to election politics. The latest reverberations from that stunning win in Tuesday night's primary in Delaware , where the tea party backed candidate Christine O'Donnell won the GOP nomination in the race for a Senate seat there. Delaware is a small state, but what happened there is getting big attention. That would include the White House , where White House correspondent Chuck Todd is standing by tonight. Chuck , good evening.

    CHUCK TODD reporting: Well, good evening, Brian . Look , despite all the warning signs, all the surprise primary winners like Christine O'Donnell , leaders from both parties, including folks here at the White House , are still struggling to figure out how this tea party movement has so successfully tapped into this angry and frustrated American voter.

    Ms. CHRISTINE O'DONNELL: Hey, can I give you guys one of these?

    TODD: Twenty-four hours after her stunning upset in tiny Delaware , tea party unknown Christine O'Donnell has already raised a million dollars online as the Republican Senate nominee. While the establishment wing of the Republican Party is still nervous about her chances, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint , an unofficial leader of the tea party movement, is enthusiastic.

    Senator JIM DeMINT: The thing I know about Christine O'Donnell , she's going to come to Washington , she's going to help us balance the budget, she's going to help us repeal Obama Care .

    TODD: But Democrats today stepped up their campaign against her, circulating old TV clips in which she equates viewing pornography with committing adultery, in an effort to paint her as out of the mainstream.

    Ms. CHRISTINE O'DONNELL: We need to address sexuality with young people.

    TODD: But O'Donnell told NBC News that was then, this is now.

    Ms. O'DONNELL: Going into the Senate , I will have a different role. I am there to advocate the constitutional principles on which our party was founded. So, yeah, I was a passionate person in my 20s. And when I had an opportunity to defend my beliefs, I did. You know, that was a long time ago. I'm in my 40s now. I've matured in a lot of my positions.

    TODD: DeMint says focusing on tea party candidates being extreme or having unusual backgrounds misses the larger point of the movement.

    Sen. DeMINT: So they're asking for some pretty commonsense things: stop spending, stop borrowing, stop adding to this debt.

    TODD: But whether voters will separate the personal from the policy, the way DeMint does, is a concern for Republican regulars.

    Mr. STUART ROTHENBERG (Political Analyst): National party strategists have to walk a real fine line here.

    TODD: Analysts say Republicans can't publicly abandon O'Donnell because she won the nomination, but they are reluctant to fully embrace her.

    Mr. ROTHENBERG: They don't want to be seen as destroying the tea party candidates. On the other hand , they don't want the Republican Party to be defined solely as the tea party and tea party candidates.

    TODD: Pat Buchanan , who has led his share of conservative insurgencies, believes the Republican establishment has to tread carefully.

    Mr. PAT BUCHANAN: History shows if you cut the coming movement, it will cut you. Nixon campaigned for Goldwater in '64, '68 he was the nominee and president. Nelson Rockefeller wouldn't wear a Goldwater button; 10 years later he was thrown off Gerald Ford 's ticket.

    TODD: The president, by the way, is on the campaign trail tonight, Brian . He's in Connecticut . It's that Senate seat that Chris Dodd is vacating. The Republican candidate there, Linda McMahon , is another candidate with an unusual background that the Democrats hope doesn't somehow propel her into office, and they're trying to stop it and keep that seat blue. Brian :

    WILLIAMS: Chuck Todd at the White House for us tonight. Chuck ,

updated 9/15/2010 4:15:37 PM ET 2010-09-15T20:15:37

In the last turn of a tumultuous primary season, former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte narrowly won her state's Republican Senate primary, to the relief of party officials in Washington who were struggling to adjust to the demise of their preferred candidate in another big race in Delaware.

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Seven weeks before Election Day, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that "turnout and enthusiasm are off the charts" across the nation and would benefit a resurgent GOP on Nov. 2.

But at the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs said "intraparty Republican anger" — most recently evident in Christine O'Donnell's defeat of veteran Rep. Michael Castle in Delaware — would help President Barack Obama's Democratic allies in their quest to retain their majorities in Congress.

Interactive: The Tea Party movement (on this page)

Republicans must pick up 40 seats to win control of the House. They need 10 to gain a Senate majority, and even prominent GOP strategists said O'Donnell's victory would complicate their chances.

In a celebratory round of interviews, O'Donnell was having none of it.

"There are a lot of people who are rallying behind me who are frustrated that the Republican Party has lost its way," she said. A primary winner on the strength of support from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and tea party activists, she now enters the fall campaign as an underdog to Democrat Chris Coons.

A few hundred miles to the north, Ayotte was celebrating as well, after a closer-than-predicted race against Ovide Lamontagne and a crowded field of rivals. The secretary of state placed her victory margin at 1,667 votes out of more than 125,000 cast. Her Democratic opponent, Rep. Paul Hodes, was unopposed for his party's nomination.

Video: O’Donnell: I don’t need GOP’s war chest (on this page)

Lamontagne conceded to Ayotte on Wednesday. He had the option of asking for a recount because his loss margin was within 1.5 percent of the total votes cast

Ayotte, 42 and making her first try for public office, enjoyed the support of party officials as well as Palin and overcame her rival's claim that he was the real conservative in the race. Lamontagne had the backing of local tea party activists as well as Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who has become a force in GOP primaries this spring and summer.

Democrats conceded privately Ayotte would be a more difficult candidate in the general election than Lamontagne, and Hodes ran television ads this summer assailing her. The winner will succeed retiring Republican Sen. Judd Gregg.

Delaware was a far different story.

Republican officials had said while the votes were being counted Tuesday night that the party would not step in to fund O'Donnell's campaign, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee initially greeted her victory with a brief statement issued in the name of an aide rather than the customary praise from Sen. John Cornyn, the Texan who heads the group.

But in a statement at midday, Cornyn said he had offered O'Donnell his personal congratulations and the organization would send her campaign a check for $42,000, the maximum it is allowed for expenses that may be officially coordinated with the candidates.

Cornyn was vague on whether the party committee would also launch the type of independent effort that is already under way in Kentucky and is reserved for the most competitive races. Such efforts can run into millions of dollars in states where the cost of television advertising is high.

Video: Dem chief sees GOP’s ‘civil war’ as opportunity

The Senate primaries in New Hampshire and Delaware were the featured contests of the last hurrah of a turbulent primary season in which the political environment seemed to grow steadily more friendly to Republicans, despite a series of upsets sprung by tea party-backed challengers.

Castle, the veteran Republican defeated by O'Donnell, said through a spokeswoman he does not intend to support her in the fall.

"This is not a race we're going to be able to win," said Karl Rove, who was the principal political adviser to former President George W. Bush as well one of the leaders of a multimillion-dollar independent organization trying to fashion GOP majorities in Congress.

Responding to Rove, Palin told Fox News Channel on Wednesday: "My message to those who say that the GOP nominee is not electable are that they're not even going to try: Well I say, 'Buck up.'" She added: "It is time to put aside internal power grabs and greed and egos within the party, and to fight united for what's right and beneficial for all Americans."

On Wednesday, O'Donnell accused the party of "Republican cannibalism."

"We have to rise above this nastiness and unify for the greater good, because there's a lot of work to be done and there are a lot of people who want to get involved if the Republican Party would," O'Donnell said in an interview with The Associated Press.

She said she hopes the party will unite to help her win in November, but added, "It is doable without the support of the Republican Party." She also made the rounds of national television interviews.

Democratic National Committee chief Tim Kaine told NBC's "Today" that O'Donnell's win was good for Democrats and a further sign of a "civil war" in the Republican Party.

"That creates opportunities for us," he said. "The O'Donnell win shows that moderate Republican voters are being forced from their party and will "have to look long and hard before supporting these candidates," Kaine said.

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Speaking Tuesday night at an Elks Lodge in Dover, Del., O'Donnell thanked Palin as well as the Tea Party Express, a California political committee that spent at least $237,000 to help her defeat Castle, a moderate and a fixture in Delaware politics for a generation.

Republican Party officials who saw Castle as their only hope for winning the Delaware seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden made their views clear. The state chairman, Tom Ross, had said O'Donnell "could not be elected dogcatcher," and records surfaced during the campaign showing that the IRS had once slapped a lien against her and that her house had been headed for foreclosure. She also claimed — falsely — to have carried two of the state's counties in a race against Biden six years ago.

In Minneapolis, former President Bill Clinton said the Republican Party was pushing out pragmatic voices in favor of candidates that make former President Bush "look like a liberal."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Interactive: The Tea Party movement


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