Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- The national news media went wild over Christine O'Donnell's upset win Tuesday, when she overcame the Republican establishment's candidate, nine-term Rep. Michael N. Castle, in the Delaware primary.

The media's exuberant treatment of O'Donnell's stunning come-from-behind win was certainly an important story, showing yet again that the muscular tea party movement that put her over the top was a force to be reckoned with in the November midterm elections.

But part of the media's motivation may have had something to do with its widespread belief that this was the first piece of good news the Democrats had gotten in this entire election cycle.

All of the polls showed Castle, the state's most popular politician who has held every major elective office from governor on down, except the Senate, winning Vice President Joe Biden's open Senate seat. Indeed, Biden's son, Beau, the state attorney general, took a pass on running against Castle because he didn't think he could win, even in a heavily Democratic state and with his famous name and considerable popularity.

Now that seat will likely remain in the Democrats' column, though it is too early to count O'Donnell, even with her troubled financial past, entirely out of the running. If her victory proved anything, it is that the conservative tea party movement has enormous political energy, which has boosted Republican primary turnout and refueled the GOP in pivotal races across the country. Party primaries, by their nature, draw far fewer voters than the general election. Republican officials in tiny Delaware (Castle is its only congressman) expected voter turnout of between 30,000 to 40,000 on Tuesday. In fact, 57,582 turned out to vote, and O'Donnell won easily with 53 percent of the vote to Castle's 47 percent.

Much of the post-primary reporting on this race characterized her upset as a negative for Republicans generally, as it did in the earlier GOP primaries in which the tea party was credited with the defeat of party establishment-backed candidates in Alaska, Utah, Colorado, Kentucky and New York. But in most of these races, the more conservative candidate is leading or very competitive, and the GOP's base is more energized because it chose the candidate rather than merely validate the party bosses' selection.

Yet earlier in the primary season, story after story mistakenly focused on the GOP's spirited primary contests as if they posed problems for the party, especially when the more conservative candidate won.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.