A day after Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell's stunning upset in the Delaware Republican Senate primary, the party tried to convey an image of solidarity and support behind their unwelcome new star. But the words and actions of some party officials undercut any appearance of unity.
O'Donnell, who beat nine-term Rep. Mike Castle 53 percent to 47 percent thanks to the Tea Party and an endorsement from Sarah Palin, remains a party outsider, receiving only a tepid endorsement from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and a pledge to send some starter money.
At one point Wednesday, Palin went on Fox News and told the GOP to “buck up” and start throwing their support behind O'Donnell and the Tea Party.
But an attack Web site operated by the Castle campaign remained up and running all day Wednesday, proclaiming O'Donnell untrustworthy and unfit for office.
“How can we trust Christine O'Donnell, who has made a career out of gaming the system,” the Web site asked.
As of Wednesday, O'Donnell hadn't even gotten a call from Castle, never mind an endorsement.
Before she jumped into the race, Castle, a popular moderate, was a shoo-in to win the Senate seat occupied for 36 years by Vice President Biden.
Republicans considered the seat one of the easiest to win from the Democrats in their strategy to regain control of the Senate, and now they believe that chance is gone.
Democratic candidate Chris Coons, who had been trailing Castle in the polls, leads O'Donnell by 16 points, according to a Public Policy Polling survey released Wednesday.
“There is no doubt Delaware Republicans picked the weakest candidate to match up against Democrat Chris Coons for U.S. Senate,” said Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling.
While Republicans mourn the potential loss of a Senate pickup, they didn't want to address the civil war brewing within their own party as Tea Party activists push for the most conservative candidates to win, even if it means potentially losing in the general election.
“Wake up, corrupt politicians in Washington, D.C., change is coming like a tidal wave, sweeping across this country,” said Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express.
When asked this week about Tea Party discontent with moderate Republicans, party leaders dodged a direct response.
“I'm for the most conservative candidate who can win,” said Republican Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who refused to back O'Donnell even though he is more politically aligned with her than Castle.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a conservative leader in the House, said regardless of whether O'Donnell can win in November, the Tea Party is sending an important message that the GOP should be hearing.
“What matters is the voters made their choice,” Ryan said. “I think the effects are mostly to make our members more fiscally conservative and to connect them to our core principles, which is good.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who is not up for re-election this year, said the mainstream GOP has been listening to the Tea Party, even if they don't want to acknowledge it.
“I think because of the Tea Party movement, people are taking matters a lot more seriously around here,” Hatch said. “I think there are a lot of lessons already taught.”