The Tea Party movement had what political commentators are calling its biggest success to date in a primary win in Delaware. The Christine O’Donnell campaign defied the skeptics and produced an enormous turnout for the Republican Senate primary. O’Donnell ended up with 30,000 votes, defeating the establishment candidate by a margin of 53-47.
But even in a state like Delaware, 30,000 voters is a small group, just under 5 percent of registered voters. It’s a long way from there to the roughly 210,000 votes needed to win a statewide general election. O’Donnell will try to broaden her appeal to win over more Republicans and at least a fourth of the Democrats (there aren’t so many independents in Delaware), but for her to accomplish that in seven weeks is hard to imagine at this point.
The various minor electoral successes of the Tea Party are as much a measure of the decline of the Republican Party. When Republican voters have voted out incumbents, it has had a lot to do with the incumbents’ seedy backgrounds and their ties to the Republican Party machine. The Republican Party has shrunk so much that a splinter group has a chance to make a splash. For her part, O’Donnell cannot entirely attribute her success to the Tea Party. She has run for U.S. Senate, with similar success, before.
Still, drawing 5 percent of registered voters is nothing to sneeze at. It is similar to what Ralph Nader did at his peak, and verging on major-party significance.