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DNC Chair: GOP in Tea Party 'takeover'

Call it a Tea Party "takeover" of the Republican Party.

That was the message from last night's election results in Colorado and Connecticut, according to Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine.

"Maybe some would have argued that OK, Rand Paul, he's an aberration," Kaine said in a phone interview with First Read. "Rand Paul and Sharron Angle, they're both aberrations. But you go Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, the two Colorado candidates, Linda McMahon, and chasing Charlie Crist out of the party in Florida, bouncing Bob Bennett from the Senate primary in Utah, this is not just an exception or two. This is a kind of main theme of the Republican midterm strategy [which] is, 'We will make a deal with the Tea Party, and then the Tea Party dictates a lot of these candidates, and these candidates are millstones for these guys."

Republican leaders, however, haven't always been on board with Tea Party candidates. In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell endorsed Trey Grayson, Paul's opponent in the primary. In Florida, the National Republican Senatorial Committee recruited and backed Crist until he, reading the polls, switched to independent. In addition, Sue Lowden in Nevada and Jane Norton in Colorado were the GOP establishment favorites.

"It's not a marriage," Kaine conceded, "It's a takeover.

"I dont think they can control it. I think they thought, 'Hey, this will be great for us because there's energy there, but what they're seeing is the energy cuts a lot of different directions. A lot of these Tea Party guys, they don't mind losing a seat. 'If we don't like this institutional Republican we're going to put in one of our guys even if that person goes down in flames.'"

Kaine will be in Colorado tomorrow for a "unity rally" with the Democratic Senate candidates -- White House-backed Michael Bennet, who won last night's primary, and the defeated former state House speaker Andrew Romanoff. Kaine said the rally was planned a couple of weeks ago with the state Democratic Party.

Of the Colorado Senate and governor's races, Kaine said: "We feel very, very good about both those races. I think last night was a very good night for us, and a tough night for the other side, because what it did is it showed that the Democrats are coming together and that the Tea Party takeover of the Republican Party is producing very ideologically extreme and flawed candidates that enable us to make this election in the fall a choice between, 'Do you want to keep moving forward, or do you want to go backward.'"

He touted that months ago, handicappers saw good GOP pick-up opportunities for both Colorado seats. But not anymore.

"It's turned from a very tough climate for us" in Colorado, Kaine said, "to a very positive one largely because of the Tea Party takeover."

Kaine also pushed back on Bennet having said that while he appreciated President Obama's support, he didn't think his endorsement had much of an effect. The DNC chairman said the DNC's Organizing for America was hard at work turning out voters and that Bennet reached out to the network of 2008 Obama supporters early on.

"That field effort ... was a very important part of his win," Kaine said.

Kaine added that he thinks it would be a "mistake" for candidates in swing districts and red states to turn away from the president.

"I think it's a mistake," Kaine said, adding, "The midterm election is not a presidential year or high turnout election. It's a lower turnout election. You do not win as a Democrat without energizing Democrats. And no one energizes Democrats like President Obama."

When asked why someone should vote for a Democrat this fall, Kaine put it this way:

"You should vote for them because we were in a ditch at the end of a lost decade, and Democrats have been doing heavy lifting to get us moving forward again; the economy is growing not shrinking; we're adding jobs not losing them; the stock market's over 10,000 not at 6,000. We're not where we want to be at yet, and the president says that every time he talks, but thank God we're climbing again; we're moving forward again. And what the other guys are offering is, 'Hey we want to go back and do exactly what was done in the lost decade that put us in the free fall."

Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye contended it's Democrats who are in the "free fall."

"The Obama admininstration finds itself in an absolute free fall and needs some straw man to blame," Heye said of Kaine's view that the Tea Party has taken over the GOP. He added, "The honest truth is that it's neither" a takeover or a marriage between the GOP and the Tea Party. "Certainly we have to appeal to those voters like we have to appeal to all voters. Democrats have said we're going to co-opt them or we have to co-opt them. There's no possibility of that. You can't pick up the phone and call the 'Florida Tea Party,'" for example.

He continued, "It seems the Democrats are insulting voters, and somehow saying that some voters shouldn't be taken seriously while some voters -- the ones they think they can get -- should."

He highlighted White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' comments about the left. "You look at Democrats," Heye said, "They're insulting voters on the left and voters on the right."

Asked if that actually helps the president appeal to the middle -- exactly the voters Obama has struggled with since taking office, but who helped him win in 2008 -- Heye said, "You can do that when your poll numbers are at 68%, and you're riding a wave. Keep in mind how much things have changed in the last 14 months."

On last night's results, Heye said Democrats have reason to be worried about the midterms, since "Democrat after Democrat" is shying away from the president, he charged. Heye noted the ad running in Indiana's second congressional district, in which Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly uses an image of President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (as well as House Minority Leader John Boehner) as the "crowd in Washington."

"That ought to be very troubling," Heye said.