The Tea Party phenomenon capped an improbable primary election cycle Tuesday by toppling a GOP stalwart in the Delaware senatorial primary.
Congressman Mike Castle, the winner of 12 races in the state, was considered a sure bet to claim the Senate seat long held by Vice President Joe Biden. But the small slice of Republicans who went to the polls spurned him in favor of Christine O'Donnell, who was routinely denigrated by Republican Party chieftains.
O'Donnell, though, had the endorsement of Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, who has become the darling of the Tea Partiers. Her backing also apparently helped Kelly Ayotte win the Republican senate nomination in New Hampshire.
Casualties in the GOP family squabble include two senators, Robert Bennett of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska; Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, now running for the Senate as an independent; Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who lost the Texas gubernatorial primary; and Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a former congressman who sought the governorship. Candidates backed by the GOP establishment were also defeated in New York, Colorado, Kentucky and California.
The Tea Party, born of anger and concern over the economy, big government and deficit spending, energized the GOP after its 2008 election debacle. But its hierarchy has been at a loss to channel this grass-roots movement, which views the entire political establishment as suspect.
The GOP turmoil has heartened the Democrats, who have been bracing for a drubbing at the polls because of the sour economy. They think -- or hope -- that their more moderate candidates will prove more electable than their hard-right Republican opponents, but that presumes that the Democrats can motivate their faithful to vote in a year when the Obama brand has been tarnished by two years of tough governance.