Tea For Two: CUNA In Split Decision In Flirtation With Tea Party Candidates

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WILMINGTON, Del. – In one of the biggest upsets of the primary season, conservative activist Christine O'Donnell earned a stunning victory in Delaware's Republican Senate primary yesterday, riding a wave of tea party anger and advertising dollars to oust U.S. Rep. Michael Castle, who was backed by the Washington establishment.

But farther north, in New Hampshire, credit union director Ovide Lamontagne, a tea party-backed candidate, appeared to be headed to victory in the Republican Senate primary after a statewide advertising campaign in the final days of the campaign financed by CUNA. CUNA spent almost $70,000 on a last-minute radio campaign touting Lamontagne, the 1996 Republican nominee for governor who served until April as chairman of the board of St. Mary’s Bank, the nation’s oldest credit union.

Lamontagne appeared last night to have bested Attorney General Kelly Ayotte and two other candidates in the primary. But the race was very close early this morning. The winner of the Republican primary will face Dem. Rep. Paul Hodes in the general election to fill the seat of Republican Judd Gregg, who is retiring after three terms.

Delaware’s Castle, a former two-term governor, was a long-time member of the House Financial Services Committee and had the support of major political interests, including CUNA, which contributed the maximum allowable $10,000 to his campaign, and NAFCU, which contributed $2,000.

O'Donnell's shocking win gave new energy to the tea party movement, which targeted Castle after victories by Republican tea party candidates in the Alaska and Nevada Senate primaries. But it also gives hope to the Democrats to retain the seat held until last January by now-Vice President Joe Biden, and since then by the appointee, Ted Kaufman. Observers say O'Donnell, who waged to unsuccessful campaigns against Biden, will have a hard time defeating Democrat Chris Coons.

Credit unions also scored a victory in the Democratic primary for Washington, D.C., Mayor, where the Maryland/D.C. League backed D.C. Council member Vincent Gray toppled incumbent Adrian Fenty. The winner of the Democratic primary is almost certain to win the general election in this overwhelmingly Democratic city.

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