Can the GOP Harness Tea Party Power?

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The Tea Party's recent surge in power has both Republicans and Democrats scrambling to readjust this week. The latest Tea candidate to catch the GOP by surprise was Delaware's Christine O'Donnell.

Her race and others have stunned the establishment, setting up a GOP realignment that Democrats hope they will be able to use to their advantage.

According to the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll, the Tea Party makes up a whopping 44 percent of the Republican primary electorate.

"The Tea Party is the Republican Party," Democratic strategist James Carville said. "This is not a fringe element of the Republican Party."
   
But while Democrats like Carville acknowledge the movement's strength, some establishment Republicans like former Bush political adviser Karl Rove are trying to take it down a notch.

"Why did she (O'Donnell) mislead voters about her college education?" former Bush political adviser Kark Rove asked in a recent Fox News interview. "How come it took nearly two decades to pay her college bills so she could get her college degree?  How did she make a living?"

Meanwhile, at the end of the primary season, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has emerged as a Tea Party kingmaker.  Her endorsements have raised the profile of numerous candidates like O'Donnell.  Palin is clearly thrilled about it.

"These Tea Party candidates who are saying, 'We just want our country to grow, to prosper, by getting back to time-tested truths in America,'" Palin said.
   
What's emerging again this week is a growing confidence among the Tea Party rank-and-file that they are ready for November.

"The Tea Party is America," said one party enthusiast. "I mean, it's the voices that haven't been heard.  That's the Tea Party. They don't get it. Just a warning.  The freight train is coming November 2, so we're looking forward to it."

In Delaware, defeated Rep. Mike Castle (R) has yet to rally behind former rival O'Donnell. It's the next step for the GOP - deciding how quickly and fully it will embrace Tea Party candidates as its own.
    

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