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First thoughts: The purge inside the GOP

O’Donnell’s stunning victory last night epitomized the ideological purge and conservative insurrection within the GOP… It was the culmination of events we’ve witnessed going back to last year… Still, this purge isn’t out of the ordinary; it’s what parties do after they lose… The Senate is still in play, though O’Donnell’s win makes it more difficult for Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn… Why the White House is happy… Last night also was a bad night for current and ex-insiders… Don’t miss Murkowski’s shot at the Tea Party Express… Polling the tax debate… More exit interviews… And profiling OH-15.


*** The purge inside the GOP: How do we make sense of Christine O’Donnell's stunning Mike Castle in Delaware, Carl Paladino crushing Rick Lazio in New York’s GOP gubernatorial primary, and Kelly Ayotte and Ovide Lamontagne still running neck-and-neck in New Hampshire’s Senate GOP contest? It’s simple: We’re witnessing a purge within the Republican Party. A longtime moderate like Castle? Gone. A well-known fixture in New York politics like Rick Lazio (who agreed to be the party's sacrificial lamb to Hillary in 2000)? Adios. Ayotte supporting Sonia Sotomayor’s SCOTUS nomination? Problematic. We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: This is no longer George W. Bush’s Republican Party, or even Ronald Reagan’s (at least the Reagan who raised taxes and agreed to amnesty for illegal immigrants). It’s a Republican Party that’s being led by Palin, DeMint, Beck, Hannity, and Limbaugh. And while Palin is the catnip here, DeMint is the real player -- the unofficial head of the GOP Senate’s Tea Party caucus and the guy who truly bears watching.

*** A year and a half in the making: O’Donnell’s surprising victory is really the culmination of something that had been growing since last spring, when Arlen Specter defected to the Democratic Party. It carried over to this April, when Charlie Crist quit his Senate GOP primary. Then in May, Robert Bennett was unable to win his party's nomination. In Kentucky, Rand Paul upset Trey Grayson, who was Mitch McConnell's hand-picked candidate. It carried over to Nevada, where Sharron Angle won the GOP primary to challenge Harry Reid. Then, in Alaska, virtually unknown Joe Miller upset Lisa Murkowski. Now O'Donnell wins in Delaware, becoming -- by our count -- the sixth Tea Party candidate to win a contested GOP Senate primary (joining Paul, Angle, Miller, Mike Lee in Utah, and Ken Buck in Colorado).

*** The GOP’s civil war isn’t out of the ordinary: Yet it’s important to understand that this purge isn’t out of the ordinary. It’s what political parties do after they lose, and what has happened within the GOP -- after 2006 and 2008 -- is that those who value ideological purity the most are beating those who value winning the most; in fact, the Democrats went through this in the '70s. This is why the Michelle Malkins are arguing with the Karl Roves, and vice versa. One thing is certainly clear, however: This temporary evolution within the Republican Party will end up pushing the 2012 GOP presidential field more to the right. Next year, we won’t see a John McCain (supporting comprehensive immigration reform), Rudy Giuliani (supporting abortion rights), or a Mitt Romney circa ’06 (supporting a health-insurance mandate). As Pat Buchanan asked on “Morning Joe,” if they want to lead this party in 2012, don’t the Romneys and Pawlentys and Barbours need to embrace O’Donnell and campaign for her this fall? Buchanan made this point: In '64, Nelson Rockefeller refused to wear a Goldwater button, while Richard Nixon campaigned for him in 40 states. One became president, the other got kicked off the GOP national ticket. Bottom line: Does the Tea Party/DeMint crowd punish any presidential wannabe in '12 who doesn't help O'Donnell meaningfully? Does this become like the ‘06 Lamont-Lieberman litmus test.

*** The Senate is still in play: While O’Donnell’s victory last night makes it harder for Republicans to pick up the 10 seats needed to win back control of the Senate, that chamber is still in play. Linda McMahon (in Connecticut), John Raese (in West Virginia), and Carly Fiorina (in California) just became more important to Mitch McConnell and the NRSC’s John Cornyn. And get this: If O’Donnell loses and if Republicans end up gaining nine Senate seats in November and not the magic 10, a switch of just 1,850 votes in the DE GOP primary would have been the difference between being in the minority and being in the majority.

*** The White House is happy with last night: The happiest people today are the beleaguered folks in the West Wing. The intra-party spat inside the GOP means the White House gets a few days out of the spotlight, something it desperately needed. Team Obama obviously believes the farther to the right the GOP is pushed by the Tea Party, the better in the long run it is for the president and his 2012 prospects. But the White House and Democrats still have a major enthusiasm problem heading into November -- one they are now starting to believe can be dealt with by simply highlighting some of the Tea Party nominees. Indeed, could last night and all the attention it will receive be a tipping point to get Democrats fired up and ready to go on Election Day?

*** A bad night for the insiders: Here’s another way to look at last night’s results: Anyone who was associated with Washington or the establishment took a hit. Mike Castle wasn’t alone; three ex-members of Congress (Lazio, Mark Neumann in Wisconsin, and Charlie Bass in New Hampshire) either lost or received tougher-than-expected races. Even Richard Nixon's grandson got thumped (remember, his opponents ran against him on the whole sense of entitlement issue). And don't forget Joe Malone, who at one time in Massachusetts was the Republican Party. He got pummeled. This is a purge -- not just based on ideology, but also against those who are part of the establishment. Outsiders won up and down the ballot last night. Then again, are we shocked that members of Congress (either current or former) are having a hard time selling themselves as agents of change?

*** An 'outside extremist group'? Don’t miss this comment from Lisa Murkowski in her statement yesterday that she won’t run as a Libertarian but is still mulling a write-in bid (and will make a final decision by Friday): “As disappointed as I am in the outcome of the Primary and my belief that the Alaska Republican Party was hijacked by the Tea Party Express, an outside extremist group, I am not going to quit my party. I will not wrap myself in the flag of another political party for the sake of election at any cost.” Wow. "Extremist"? This isn't coming from someone in the liberal blogosphere.

*** Polling the tax debate: Dem polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner went into the field to ask the tax questions and found that among likely voters, by a 55%-38% margin, Americans want to let the Bush tax cuts expire. Those numbers are identical for independents. Dems favor letting them expire 69%-22%; Republicans are against 54%-39%. By a 68%-28% margin, respondents in the survey said they favor extending the Bush tax cuts for just the middle class for two years. More than 60% favored permanently extending the middle-class tax cuts and either phasing them out for those making $250,000 a year or more or letting them expire. The poll, however, showed Republicans maintaining a seven-point, 49%-42% generic ballot edge. These results aired on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” last night. More on the full poll here.

*** The exit interviews: As part of NBC Senate producer Ken Strickland’s series of the U.S. senators who are retiring this year, and here are snippets from two of the posts we’ll run on First Read. First, here’s Jim Bunning (R-KY) on the two senators he doesn’t get along with: "I have difficulty with Durbin and Schumer. Maybe it’s their personalities; maybe it’s my personality.” And here’s Evan Bayh (D-IN) on the difficulty of crossing party lines on issues: "Any deviancy from party orthodoxy is viewed as an act of betrayal or a lack of moral fiber.”

*** 75 House races to watch: OH-15: The Democratic nominee is first-term incumbent Mary Jo Kilroy. The GOP nominee is former state Rep. Steve Stivers, whom Kilroy beat by just 2,000 votes in ’08. Obama won 54% in this district in 2008, while Bush got 50% in ’04. As of June 30th, Kilroy had raised $1.7 million, and Stivers raised $1.5 million. But Stivers had more cash on hand than Kilroy -- $1.2 million to about $930,000. Kilroy voted for the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and health care. Cook rates it a Toss Up, while Rothenberg has it Lean Republican. [CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post inadvertently used the candidates' total raised numbers for cash on hand.]

Countdown to HI primaries: 3 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 48 days

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