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How Christine O'Donnell won (and the rest of the Sept. 14 primary results)

1. Marketing consultant Christine O'Donnell's victory over Rep. Mike Castle in last night's Delaware Republican primary is rightly considered the biggest upset in a primary season filled with surprises.

O'Donnell was making her third run for the Senate in as many elections and was widely considered to be a political gadfly by the political establishment in Delaware and Washington, D.C.. Castle had spent more than 40 years in elected office, a career that had showed him to be the most popular Republican politician in the Democratic-tilting First State.

So, what happened?

In the immediate aftermath of O'Donnell's victory, Republican political strategists were still grappling with that question. But, a few answers had emerged.

First, O'Donnell rolled up major margins in the southern and central parts of the state. She won Sussex County -- the home of the state's social conservatives -- 64 percent to 36 percent and Kent County 65 percent to 35 percent.

As expected, Castle won New Castle County -- the northernmost of the state's three counties -- but by a far smaller margin than expected. Castle's 58 percent to 42 percent win in New Castle was nowhere near enough to make up for O'Donnell's votes in Sussex and Kent.

Overall, New Castle accounted for 51 percent of the total vote, Sussex 32 percent and Kent 17 percent.

The second reason cited for O'Donnell's win (or Castle's loss) was the Congressman's unwillingness to cater to voters on the party's ideological right. While Castle attacked O'Donnell relentlessly over the final two weeks of the race, he did little to hide his disdain for the tea party movement -- a purposeful poking-in-the-eye that almost certainly revved up the conservative base against him.

One exasperated Republican strategist noted that Castle repeatedly reminded voters that O'Donnell didn't have Washington experience -- accidentally highlighting a major plus for her in the eyes of voters looking to shake up the status quo.

Third, by the time Castle realized he had a problem -- and most insiders trace that moment to August 24 when Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) lost to tea party-backed Joe Miller in a GOP primary -- it was already too late.

Tea party activists saw the state as their next big chance to once again flex their muscles against the party establishment. And, the decision by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint to get involved on O'Donnell's side further elevated the race's national profile and turned her into a conservative cause celebre.

Those three factors -- and myriad other ones that will almost certainly come to light in the next few days -- led to the O'Donnell win.

And, that victory not only makes New Castle County Executive Chris Coons (D) a favorite in the fall but also jeopardizes Republicans' chances of taking back control of the Senate on Nov. 2.

2. In top House primaries held Tuesday, a pair of New York incumbents held strong. Reps. Charlie Rangel (D) and Carolyn Maloney (D) both easily beat back primary challengers that were supposed to be competitive.

Rangel still faces an ethics trial in the House, but wound up exceeding 50 percent of the primary vote and easily besting a crowded field of candidates. Maloney faced a very well-funded primary from attorney Reshma Saujani, but won more than 80 percent of the vote.

In other New York news, former Rep. Rick Lazio (R) fell to a tea party candidate, Carl Paladino, in the Republican primary for governor.

Much like in Delaware, the GOP establishment there faces an unwelcome feeling-out process with its baggage-laden nominee against state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D).

And, appointed New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) will face former Rep. Joe DioGuardi (R) this fall for the two years remaining on former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D) term. Republicans initially targeted the race, but didn't land a top recruit.

Meanwhile in Maryland, former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) was also a big winner over businessman Brian Murphy, who received a late endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) but didn't gain much traction otherwise.

And, in New Hampshire, former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte clung to a narrow lead over attorney Ovide Lamontagne in the race for the Republican Senate nomination. The winner will face Rep. Paul Hodes (D).

Former New Hampshire health commissioner John Stephen (R) will face Gov. John Lynch (D).

In targeted House races, Maryland state Sen. Andy Harris (R) will face freshman 1st district Rep. Frank Kratovil (D), businessman Randy Altschuler (R) will take on Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), former FBI Agent Michael Grimm (R) will face Rep. Michael McMahon (D-N.Y.), and Norfolk County District Attorney Bill Keating (D) and state Rep. Jeff Perry (R) will battle for the seat of retiring Rep. Bill Delahunt's (D-Mass.).

3. The conservative outside group American Crossroads is launching new ads in the Missouri and Colorado Senate races today.

The Missouri ad seeks to tie Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) to national Democrats and slams her on the national health care overhaul and federal stimulus package.

"They have failed Missouri, and Robin Carnahan is one of them," the narrator of the ad says as images of Carnahan, President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) appear onscreen.

The group is spending $330,000 on the ad, which will run for one week in the St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield and Columbia media markets.

The Colorado commercial, which hits Sen. Michael Bennet (D) for remarking that "we have nothing to show for" the amount of debt the country has racked up, will air for one week in the Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction media markets and is part of a $550,000 buy.

To date, American Crossroads, which was formed by former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie and Bush White House senior adviser Karl Rove, has raised better than $17 million -- the bulk of which has been spent on television ads targeting Democrats running for the Senate.

4. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) will announce Friday whether she will run for reelection as a write-in, she said Tuesday.

Murkowski, who lost her party's nomination last month to attorney Joe Miller, said she will not run as Libertarian but will continue to take input on a third-party bid for the rest of the week, acknowledging that running any kind of write-in campaign, even as an incumbent, would be difficult.

"I recognize that not seeking the Libertarian's position on the ballot leaves me with the more difficult task of running a write-in campaign should I decide to continue in the race," Murkowski said in a statement. "I will continue to seek advice from my fellow Alaskans about what is best for the state's future and announce a decision by Friday."

A Murkowski write-in bid could breath life into the candidacy of Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams (D), who is an underdog in a head-to-head matchup with Miller.

National Republicans, knowing that a write-in bid could jeopardize their chances of winning in the Last Frontier, are urging Murkowski to step aside gracefully.

5. A new independent poll shows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) and former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R) locked in a dead heat in the Nevada Senate race, the second such survey released this week.

Reid takes 46 percent to Angle's 44 percent among likely voters in the new Reuters/Ipsos poll.

The results mirror those of a Mason-Dixon poll released on Sunday.

Reid has been hammering away at Angle this week with a new TV ad that charges that her votes as a state assemblywoman "would have made Nevada a safe haven for domestic abusers."

Angle's camp has responded that the ad is an "attempt at fear mongering" that is "just another ill-conceived effort to distract voters from the main issue of this race, which is the broken economy in Nevada."

Meanwhile, Angle has been busy, well, angling for an endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin , hoping that getting a formal nod from the party's 2008 vice presidential nominee will solidify her support among the GOP base.

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  | September 15, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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