WASHINGTON (AP) – Virtually unknown a month ago, Christine O'Donnell of Delaware rode a surge of support from tea party activists to victory in the Republican Senate primary Tuesday night, dealing yet another setback to the GOP establishment in a campaign season full of them. A second upstart led for the GOP nomination in New Hampshire.
O'Donnell defeated Rep. Mike Castle, a fixture in Delaware politics for a generation who campaigned with the strong backing of party officials in his state and in Washington. Nearly complete returns showed her with 53 percent of the vote.
Democrats rejoiced along with her supporters.
Despite her win, O'Donnell will enter the fall campaign as an underdog to Chris Coons, a county executive who was unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Republican officials said as the votes were being counted the party would not come to her aid if she won the primary, citing a string of disclosures about her personal finances and other matters. The state party chairman, Tom Ross, said recently she "could not be elected dogcatcher."
In New Hampshire, lawyer Ovide Lamontagne led former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, 45 percent to 35 percent, with votes counted from 18 percent of the precincts.
A former chairman of the state Board of Education, Lamontagne campaigned with the support of tea party activists, while Ayotte had a coalition of establishment Republicans, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and other conservatives.
Democratic New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch rolled to renomination for a fourth term, and he will face John Stephen, a former state health commissioner who won the GOP line on the ballot easily.
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.
In all, five states chose nominees for the Senate, and six more had gubernatorial hopefuls on primary ballots. The winners had scant time to refocus their energies for midterm elections on Nov. 2.
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, O'Donnell captured the Republican nomination for a Senate seat held for 36 years by Vice President Joe Biden. The race turned took a sharp turn for the negative three weeks ago after the Tea Party Express announced it would come to her aid.
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 records surfaced showing that the IRS had once slapped a lien against her and that her house had been headed for foreclosure.
In an extraordinary move, the state Republican Party began automated phone calls attacking O'Donnell in the campaign's final hours. The calls featured the voice of a woman who identified 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."
While Republicans brawled, Coons, executive of New Castle County, 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.
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 defeated 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 won the nomination for a rematch against the man who ousted him from office in 2006, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.
Besides Rhode Island and New Hampshire, there were gubernatorial nomination contests in 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 won 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.