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Politics

The Tea Party Comes to Washington

Paul, Rubio, and Lee Win, but Not O'Donnell, Angle.

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Stanly Emond, left, and Ziqir 'Ziggy' Berisha participate in a Tea Party Express rally on Monday in Connecticut.(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Updated at 1:45 a.m. on November 3.

Rand Paul, who bucked his own party leadership on his way to becoming the next Republican senator from Kentucky, gave full credit to the conservative insurgent movement in claiming his victory last night.

 

"Tonight, there’s a tea party tidal wave," Paul told jubilant supporters.

Paul's victory was the first in a string of tea party victories, but several of the movement's favorites fell short, most notably in Nevada where Republican Senate challenger Sharron Angle lost her bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Tea Party Express, a major funder for Angle, issued a statement wondering "if there was any candidate that could have stood up against the withering storm of Reid’s $25 million dollar campaign." Unfortunately for the tea party group, it booked space for a “Victory Watch Party” at the Aria Hotel and Casino, the same place where Reid scheduled his election night party.

Christine O'Donnell's loss to Chris Coons in the Delaware Senate race kept the seat that Vice President Joe Biden occupied for 37 years in Democratic hands. And, as expected, the New York GOP's pugilistic gubernatorial nominee, Carl Paladino, lost the race to Democrat Andrew Cuomo.

 

Elsewhere, tea party candidates had a good run. In the Florida Senate race, Marco Rubio of Florida beat Gov. Charlie Crist, who left the Republican Party to run as an independent, and Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek. Rubio's victory shows the tea party's power in Florida, where Crist had huge name recognition. Some jubilant supporters at his victory party already have higher ambitions for the Cuban American. "Marco Rubio: presidente," some of them chanted. Florida also contributed a tea party Republican to the House, with Allen West defeating Rep. Ron Klein, D-Fla.

In South Carolina, tea party Republican Nikki Haley bested Democrat Vincent Sheheen. Haley, who will be the state's first woman governor, survived unsubstantiated charges of adultery during the campaign.

Utah's tea party Republican Senate candidate Mike Lee also beat Democratic candidate Sam Granato. The Utah race provided one of the earliest indications of the strength of the conservative insurgency earlier this year when tea party activists denied veteran Republican Sen. Robert Bennett his party’s nomination.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who pulled in tea party support, handily beat his Democratic challenger Bill White.

 

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., also won his reelection bid, officially ensconcing the conservative as a potential new leader of what could be a critical mass of conservative insurgents. "While others vie to be the face of conservatism, Jim DeMint is undoubtedly its backbone," the fiscally conservative Club for Growth said in a statement congratulating the South Carolinian. DeMint, who backed Paul in a GOP primary over Trey Grayson, the handpicked candidate of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., celebrated his protege's win.

"Rand overcame difficult odds because he consistently stood up for conservative principles," DeMint said in a statement.

DeMint told Fox News that he hopes the new Republican elected officials can win over wary voters. "I think people are fired up, but... they’re not necessarily enthralled with the Republican Party and they’re not sure they can trust us again," he said.

The early victories for tea party candidates demonstrated the strength of the movement, which has redefined electoral expectations this year.

Now the question is: Will they redefine Washington?

One of the weaknesses of the movement was illustrated in Delaware, where O'Donnell scored a surprise upset over veteran Rep. Michael Castle in the Republican primary. Castle was considered such a strong contender in the general election that Beau Biden, the Delaware attorney general and a son of the vice president, opted not to make the race. But O'Donnell's outspoken conservatism was apparently too much for Delaware's middle-of-the-road voters and opened the door for Coons.

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