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'Tea party' is polarizing, but has many 'closet admirers,' poll finds

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Debate has raged for months over whether the 18-month-old tea party movement would help or hurt the Republican Party in the midterm elections. In Tuesday's GOP primaries, tea-party-backed candidate Christine O'Donnell, an aspiring US senator from Delaware, bested longtime Rep. Mike Castle in a come-from-behind victory. Mr. Castle had been favored to flip Vice President Joe Biden's former seat to the Republican column, but Ms. O'Donnell's success could give her Democratic rival in the general election, Chris Coons, a fresh start.

"If Mike Castle isn't welcome in the Delaware Republican Party, the GOP has just hung out a sign that says moderates need not apply," said Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications chief, in a statement.

It's not the first time Democratic officials have sought to link the Republican Party – and Republican candidates – with the tea party, with the expectation that connection would drive moderate and independent voters from GOP candidates.

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