Nightly News | September 16, 2010
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 ,