Reporting from Washington — New Hampshire's Republican Senate primary remained too close to call Wednesday morning, leaving the extent of a conservative revolt against establishment candidates unclear.
With 86% of the state's precincts reporting, former state Atty. Gen. Kelly Ayotte had just a 979-vote lead over conservative attorney Ovide Lamontagne. Ayotte, with backing both of Washington Republicans and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, had trailed much of Tuesday evening before taking a narrow advantage.
The Secretary of State's office said Wednesday that remaining ballots would be counted in a matter of hours. A recount is also possible. According to state election law, any candidate who finishes within 20% of the declared winner can request a recount, with the cost dependent on just how close that margin is.
Speaking to supporters late Tuesday, Ayotte said it was important for the party, regardless of the outcome, to keep its focus on defeating the Democratic nominee, U.S. Rep. Paul W. Hodes. Lamontagne, meanwhile, said he remained confident he would prevail.
Regardless of the victor, Republicans' chances of holding the New Hampshire seat now held by Sen. Judd Gregg remained strong, analysts said. That is not the case in Delaware, where Christine O'Donnell's victory over Mike Castle, with four decades' of political victories in the state, has shocked the political world. Within hours of the race being called, the Rothenberg Political Report shifted its rating for the seat from "Leans Republican" to "Leans Democratic."
"Castle had broad appeal, including to independents and even Democratic voters, while O'Donnell's appeal is limited to "tea party" conservatives," the non-partisan handicapper said. "Lacking an impressive resume and unlikely to garner significant national Republican support, O'Donnell clearly looks like an underdog."
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has seen at least a half-dozen of its favored candidates and incumbents defeated in primaries this year, signaled that it was unlikely to provide financial support to O'Donnell's candidacy in November against Democrat Chris Coons.
Still, O'Donnell said she could defy the pundits once again.
"Delaware's a state that's small enough where I can be in every county every week giving the voters an opportunity to get to know me, I can get to know them, and I can personally ask them for their vote in November," she said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday morning.
After seven months' of primaries that saw a grassroots movement demanding more conservatism of Republican candidates, the question now is whether the party's nominees have taken positions too far to the right come November.
The profile of the general election electorate is uncertain. The higher number of competitive Republican primaries means that has translated into a large disparity in turnout this year. But Democrats maintain that their investments in a November strategy to get out the vote will pay dividends when it counts.
Fractures in the GOP have clearly diminished its chances for victory in several key races, particularly in Delaware — a seat Republicans prized because it was once held by Vice President Joe Biden — and Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is competitive despite unrest at home because of the primary victory by untested GOP challenger Sharron Angle.
The same holds in gubernatorial races. In New York, former Rep. Rick Lazio said late Tuesday that despite his surprising defeat for the Republican nomination to millionaire real estate mogul Carl Paladino, a self-styled tea party candidate, he's staying in the race on the Conservative Party line.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat, has led in every public poll since conservative activist Rick Scott captured the gubernatorial nomination over state Atty. Gen. Bill McCollum in August. Dan Maes' narrow victory in the Colorado governor's race meant former Rep. Tom Tancredo stayed in the field as a third-party candidate, giving Democrat John Hickenlooper a strong chance to keep that seat in Democratic hands.