GOP hopes for Senate takeover complicated by Tea Party challenges in Delaware, New Hampshire

Jon Ward Contributor
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GOP momentum toward a Senate takeover is increasing in many respects. But storm clouds are gathering over their head in Delaware and New Hampshire as Tuesday’s primary elections approach.

A new Public Policy Polling survey out late Sunday showed Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell with a 3-point lead over Mike Castle in Delaware’s Senate Republican primary.

In New Hampshire, Ovide Lamontagne has closed to within single digits of attorney general Kelly Ayotte – a second PPP poll released late Sunday said – in another challenge to the GOP establishment’s candidate from the conservative grassroots.

Marco Rubio is pulling ahead in Florida, and Rob Portman and Pat Toomey continue to increase their advantages in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Democrat Barbara Boxer is slipping in California, and Harry Reid in Nevada still cannot break away from Sharron Angle.

But if Tea Party candidates win Republican primaries on Tuesday in Delaware and New Hampshire, the calculus will be reset. Many prognosticators who have recently put the upper chamber in play will almost certainly take the prospect of a Republican Senate back off the table.

Such an outcome would not necessarily trouble many in the Tea Party movement, who have no special affinity for the GOP beyond feeling that they are less bad than the Democrats.

Of course, in New Hampshire the consequences of a Lamontagne candidacy might not be dramatic. The PPP poll Sunday said they have numbers they will release later in the week that show “Ayotte and Lamontagne performing basically the same” against Democrat Paul Hodes, a two-term congressman.*

But the political drama in the race is building. Ayotte has been endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, but on Friday Lamontagne got the backing of Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican. Then Sunday, Palin recorded a robocall calling Ayotte the “true conservative” in the race.

In Delaware the impact of a win for O’Donnell is clear. In such a scenario, Delaware would go from a likely GOP win to a likely Democratic win overnight, and would probably on its own put the Senate out of reach for Republicans.

It has been assumed for months that Castle would be the Party’s nominee. Castle’s lead over Chris Coons, county executive of New Castle County, had been reduced several points from its high water mark of roughly 20 percent, but remained in double digits. The seat formerly held by Vice President Joe Biden was one of four Democratic posts that was considered a certainty to switch parties.

Yet now Castle is under assault from Tea Party activists in his state for being too liberal, and the Tea Party Express is in the process of pouring $250,000* into the state on behalf of O’Donnell, who is embraced by the conservative grassroots despite her questionable qualifications and behavior.

O’Donnell trailed Coons by 11 points in the most recent Rasmussen Reports survey, released September 2. A Rasmussen poll in July showed her with a 2 point advantage. A poll in August, by Public Policy Polling, showed O’Donnell trailing Coons by 7 points.

In Delaware too there are dueling endorsements. Palin endorsed O’Donnell last week, weighing in late in the race just like DeMint did in New Hampshire. That prompted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had already endorsed Castle, to come back with a fundraising e-mail on Sunday calling Castle “the only candidate in this race that can put this seat in the Republican column in November.”

Republicans currently hold 41 seats in the Senate and need to gain 10 seats to control a majority, assuming independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut continues to caucus with the Democrats.

In Florida, Rubio has pulled ahead of independent Gov. Charlie Crist and Democrat Rep. Kendrick Meeks, with his advantage in the Real Clear Politics poll average moving up 3 points to 5.4 percent just in the last week.

California shows signs of tightening. Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer’s lead over Republican Carly Fiorina in the RCP average has shrunk from 3.5 percent, where it held for many weeks, to 0.3 percent.

And in Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Reid saw his small lead go up just over a point in the RCP average, from 1.3 to 2.7 percent. But he remains unable to break free even after bombarding Angle with attacks for the entirety of the summer. A Las Vegas Review-Journal poll out Sunday evening showed him with a slim 2 point lead.

NEXT: Linda McMahon’s negatives in Connecticut are keeping her from gaining ground.

Portman, a former U.S. Trade Representative and White House budget director under President George W. Bush, continues to add to his lead in Ohio over Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher. Portman’s advantage has gone from 1.8 percent in mid-August to now 8.3 percent in the RCP average.

One Democrat who has seen his lead stabilize is Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who saw some initial shrinkage of his lead to 8.5 percent from 14 percent immediately after Republican Linda McMahon won the primary.

The RCP average now has Blumenthal with a 9.5 percent lead. One clue that the Democrats’ attacks on McMahon for her past as CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment may have worked is that the most recent Rasmussen survey on the race showed McMahon’s negatives at 49 percent.

President Obama will visit Connecticut on Thursday to raise money for Blumenthal.

*The article originally stated TPE intends to spend $260,000, and that Hodes was a first-termer.

Jon Ward – The Daily Caller