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Thursday, 16 September 2010

Despite the sparkle and pep displayed by Tea Party candidates like Christine O'Donnell, who has just won her party's nomination to run for the Senate at the November mid-term elections in the United States, there's a lot that is dark and uncomfortably murky about the recent poll, especially for a foreigner. Shots of a jubilant O'Donnell, shots of processions of flag-carrying Republicans, shots of traditionally-dressed ersatz-Revolutionary pipers - these colourful elements of interest, it seems, to the mainstream media do little to enable the perplexed to grasp just what has happened in Delaware, a small state on the Atlantic coast that was one of the original 13 states of the Union.

And posters like this one (pic) just make matters worse. What, after all, does a retro aesthetic that owes as much to 1930s Soviet propaganda as Palin's recognisable rep as a hands-on soccer mum, mean? She's tough, outspoken and blatantly conservative - no, not conservative (that's the Democrats). She's Right-wing Radical and make no mistake about it. And she's white and handsome in a conventional sort of way. Think of her as a cross between Norman Rockwell and the Politburo. Now that's frightening!

Delaware's election was attended by who? It's a mid-term primary. But in the States primaries - which are elimination races among candidates who vie for the privilege of representing a single party - often involve a popular poll. I'm still not sure who voted in this case. It might have been a poll of registered Republicans. It might have been a state-wide popular poll.

UPDATE at 00.18am, Friday: Qualified response from a person I know who has studied American politics: "just registered Republicans voted for O'Donnell to be the party's nominee."

It matters. The result of the election was clear: 53 percent for O'Donnell against 47 percent for Mike Castle. Castle had the support of the Republican Party's mainstream. I assumed that the poll was taken among voters who identify themselves as Republican to such an extent that they register themselves with the Party for this purpose. So it's not a popular vote, but a type of caucus vote among true-believers.

Because of this, the likelihood of a loss for the Republicans in November, when the mid-term elections are held (and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives are decided as well as full terms for 33 or 34 of the 100 seats in the Senate), is great. The Tea Party seems to be splitting the Republican vote, so a lot of nominally Republican voters might feel disaffected if a Tea Party candidate is their only Senate or Reps option, and go with the Democrat candidate instead.

The alternative is that Tea party-flavoured Republicans will dominate in either or both houses after November. If this happens, President Obama will have more difficulty getting his laws passed since there will be more strident and steely opposition on Capitol Hill.

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