Huffpost Politics
Sam Stein Headshot

Menendez: Tea Party 'Saved The Best For Last,' 'Changed The Map'

Posted: Updated:

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair Robert Menendez said on Wednesday that a slew of Republican primary results, crowned by yet another Tea Party upset in Delaware the evening prior, has "changed the map" with respect to the strategy he will pursue as the election nears.

In a brief interview with the Huffington Post, the New Jersey Democrat could hardly disguise his glee with Christine O'Donnell's victory over Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del) in last night's Senate primary. "The Tea Party certainly saved the best for last," he said.

And while he declined to get into specifics in respect to how the committee will approach the Senate election in Delaware, Menendez did hint that he and his colleagues will be revamping their focus across the board.

"Republicans keep making the same mistake over and over again," he explained. "They tag their preferred candidate with the establishment label and even Republican voters are saying, 'Aren't those the same people who caused the problem in the first place?' More importantly, the wounds aren't healing... and that is a big problem for Republicans. There is division there and most importantly, Republicans have chosen extremist to be their nominees and that has changed the map for the next 40 days."

As evidence, Menendez pointed to reliably-GOP Kentucky, where the National Republican Senatorial Committee aired its first ad of the cycle, going after Attorney General Jack Conway on Rand Paul's behalf.

"The state is very much in play," he explained. "When you start spending your money in Kentucky it tells you how challenging the cycle is for them as well."

What practical differences O'Donnell's win will mean for how the NRSC or the DSCC spends money in Delaware aren't yet entirely clear. On Wednesday, the polling firm PPP (which correctly predicted the primary outcome) released general election numbers, with County Executive Chris Coons leading O'Donnell by a 50 to 34 percent margin. But while the DSCC is undoubtedly giddy with those numbers, they are holding off a bit before making strategic decisions based on them.

"I never telegraph how I'm spending my money on races," said Menendez. "We will spend our money at the DSCC in accordance with where we can win and both preserve and enhance the majority. That's what we will do. I was one of the individuals who recruited Chris Coons when Beau Biden decided he wasn't going to run... Towards the end he has been making ground on Mike Castle. And he had been doing it largely on shoe leather. Now that he has a crisp and clear contrast with O'Donnell, there is no question that the race has a new focus to it."

One thing that could determine what money, if any, the DSCC invests in the state is how the Republican Party ends up reacting to O'Donnell's win. On Tuesday night, reports surfaced that the establishment figures in the party had already written her off. By Wednesday, however, the National Republican Senatorial Committee announced that it was not only supporting O'Donnell as its nominee but also writing a check for $42,000 for her campaign. Combine that with the flow of Tea Party funds certain to come her way and not everyone in the Democratic tent is ready to place the state in the win column.

"I'm assuming she will have a money bomb and the whole thing," a top Democratic strategist who consults with the DSCC said. "She will get a big bump. We need to let a week go by before we know where the race stands."

"From our perspective, thank God we have Chris Coons in the race," the strategist added. "This is not an Alvin Greene [the mercurial Democratic candidate in the South Carolina Senate race] or someone we just put there to be on the ballot. He is an 'A' candidate. He is really good... we have been singing his praises for a year and a half."

Around the Web

Big night for tea party: O'Donnell wins Delaware - Yahoo! News

Final act begins in 2010 election

'Tea party' is polarizing, but has many 'closet admirers,' poll finds

Register To Vote