Republican establishment battles tea party once more as tumultuous primaries hit finish line

By David Espo, AP
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tea party favorite leads in New Hampshire

WASHINGTON — Tea party-supported Ovide Lamontagne seized an early lead in New Hampshire’s Republican senatorial primary Tuesday night. It was one of a pair of marquee races in the finale to a primary season marked by economic recession and political upheaval.

Lamontagne was gaining 53 percent of the vote to 32 percent for former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte who had the support of party leaders. Ballots had been counted in 5 percent of the state’s precincts.

The race was one of a pair in which tea party insurgents challenged the party establishment. The other was in Delaware, where veteran Rep. Mike Castle vied with Christine O’Donnell in a Republican Senate nomination race that turned particularly nasty in the final weeks.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Establishment Republicans vied with challengers favored by tea party activists one last time Tuesday in a multistate finale to a primary election season marked by economic recession and political upheaval.

Highlighted by GOP-tea party showdowns in New Hampshire and Delaware, five states chose candidates for the Senate and six for governor.

In New York, 40-year veteran Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel faced the voters for the first time since the House ethics committee accused him of 13 violations, most of them relating to his personal finances.

So far this year, seven incumbent members of Congress have tasted defeat, four Republicans and three Democrats. And that does not include a lengthy list of GOP contenders who fell to tea party-supported challengers despite having the backing of party officials eager to maximize their gains in November.

With unemployment high and President Barack Obama’s popularity below 50 percent, Republicans said the primaries reflected an enthusiasm that would serve the party well in the fall, when control of Congress will be at stake.

Democrats, however, said the presence of tea party-supported Republicans would prove costly to the GOP on Nov. 2 — a proposition that remained to be tested in seven weeks’ time.

In Delaware, Rep. Mike Castle sought the nomination to a Senate seat held for 36 years by Vice President Joe Biden in a primary that took a sharp turn for the negative three weeks ago when the Tea Party Express announced it would come to the aid of challenger Christine O’Donnell.

Castle, a former two-term governor and a veteran of nearly two decades in the House, was repeatedly assailed as a liberal, a Republican in name only. He and the party responded by challenging O’Donnell’s fitness for public office and her ability to win a statewide election in the fall.

In an extraordinary move, the state Republican Party began automated phone calls attacking O’Donnell in the campaign’s final hours. The calls feature the voice of a woman who identifies herself as Kristin Murray, O’Donnell’s campaign manager in her 2008 unsuccessful Senate campaign, accusing the candidate of “living on campaign donations — using them for rent and personal expenses, while leaving her workers unpaid and piling up thousands in debt.”

O’Donnell’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Republican officials have said privately they intend to write off the seat if O’Donnell is victorious against Castle.

While Republicans brawled, New Castle County Executive Chris Coons coasted to the Democratic nomination without opposition. Biden resigned the seat in early 2009, and his successor, Democratic Sen. Ted Kaufman, pledged not to run for a full term.

Republicans in New Hampshire sorted through a crowded field of candidates for the nomination to a seat long held by retiring GOP Sen. Judd Gregg.

Former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte was the party-backed favorite, and she added support from prominent conservatives who have played a heavy role in several primaries this year, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Her principal opposition came from Ovide Lamontagne, a lawyer and former head of the state board of education. He campaigned with the support of tea party activists and claimed to be the most conservative candidate in a race that also included businessmen Bill Binnie and Jim Bender.

The winner will face Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes, who is giving up his seat in the House to run for the Senate.

Republicans must gain 10 seats this fall if they are to win control of the Senate, and their chances count heavily on their ability to prevail in both Delaware and New Hampshire.

In Wisconsin, businessman Ron Johnson faced two minor opponents for the Republican nomination to oppose three-term Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold in November in what polls show is a tight race. Johnson has said he will spend millions of his own money to finance his campaign through Election Day.

In New York, Democratic Attorney General Andrew Cuomo faced no opposition for the party’s nomination for governor, and he will be the prohibitive favorite in the fall for an office his father held for three terms.

Former Rep. Rick Lazio vied with political novice Carl Paladino, a wealthy developer who got tea party support, for the Republican nomination.

The state’s new electronic voting machines made their debut, and there were scattered reports of problems that resulted in delays and long lines.

In Maryland, former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich sought the nomination for a rematch against the man who ousted him from office in 2006, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley.

There were gubernatorial nomination contests in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, where Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker collided with former Rep. Mark Neumann for the Republican line on the fall ballot. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was heavily favored for the Democratic nomination.

Rangel’s principal challenger for the nomination in his Harlem-based district was Adam Clayton Powell IV, a state assemblyman whose father Rangel defeated 40 years ago. In the decades since, Rangel rose to become chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, with enormous power over taxes, trade, Medicare and more, but Democrats forced him to step aside from that panel while he battles ethics charges.

He is accused of accepting several New York City rent-stabilized apartments, and omitting information on his financial disclosure forms. He’s also accused of failing to pay taxes from a rental property in the Dominican Republic, and improperly soliciting money for a college center to be named after him. He has vowed to fight the charges, and faces an ethics committee trial, possibly after the elections.

A second New York Democratic incumbent, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, also faced a strong primary challenge.

Rhode Island had a rare open seat in its two-member House delegation, following the decision of Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy to retire. Providence Mayor David Cicilline, who is openly gay, was favored over three rivals for the Democratic nomination.

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