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Inner-GOP sniping increases in wake of Tea Party successes

By Tom Cohen, CNN
Delaware GOP Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell canceled scheduled interviews with Fox and CBS.
Delaware GOP Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell canceled scheduled interviews with Fox and CBS.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Murkowski says conservative colleague undermines fellow Republicans
  • Rove says Murkowski can't win write-in vote
  • O'Donnell backs out of talk show appearances
  • DNC chairman says Republicans moving too far right for electorate

Washington (CNN) -- Tea Party euphoria confronted reality Sunday, with Delaware Senate primary winner Christine O'Donnell backing out of scheduled talk show appearances amid talk of possible civil war among Republicans over the conservative movement.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski accused the Tea Party Express of infusing money and lies into her Republican primary to swing it against her.

Now waging a write-in campaign to retain her seat, against the wishes of mainstream Republicans, Murkowski told CNN that fellow party members were inciting inner-GOP conflict.

"What happened in my particular race, you had the Tea Party Express, this California-based group, come in at the last minute in a campaign, run a mudslinging, smear -- just a terrible, terrible campaign, with lies and fabrications and mischaracterization," Murkowski said on CNN's "State of the Union" program. "They came in, they dumped $600,000 into a small market here in Alaska, and they absolutely clearly influenced the outcome of that election."

Murkowski accused conservative GOP Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who backed her victorious opponent in the primary, of undermining fellow Republicans.

"I don't think that it's particularly helpful to undercut fellow Republicans, but as I say, it's his prerogative," Murkowski said of DeMint, later adding: "I think that he has made people uncomfortable. I think that he has kind of rattled the cages. Whether it advances to a full-on civil war, I don't know."

On the same program, DeMint said in a pre-recorded interview that his efforts have helped Republican chances of regaining control of the Senate in November's mid-term elections.

"The only reason we have a chance at a majority now is in large part for the candidates I've been supporting," DeMint said.

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DeMint's support for Joe Miller over Murkowski and for O'Donnell in Delaware, who defeated veteran Republican Rep. Mike Castle in Tuesday's Delaware primary for Vice President Joe Biden's former Senate seat, caused consternation in GOP party circles.

Some fear such extreme conservative candidates can't win statewide races and are unprepared for the scrutiny of such a campaign.

O'Donnell added to such concerns by canceling previously agreed-to interviews on "FOX News Sunday" and the CBS program "Face the Nation," deciding instead to make appearances in Delaware.

Bob Schieffer, the host of the CBS program, said on air that O'Donnell's representatives denied she withdrew because of videotape released over the weekend showing her talking about dabbling in witchcraft.

Whatever the reason, O'Donnell continued to serve as a lightning rod for analysis of the influence of the Tea Party movement. She was given little chance of defeating Castle, but received late support from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as well as Tea Party money, and pulled off the upset.

Now the 11-year-old "witchcraft" video and others becoming public are reinforcing the image preferred by Democrats of O'Donnell as an unknown, untested and risky candidate.

Republican strategist Ed Rollins acknowledged the problem on the CBS program, saying O'Donnell was off to a rocky beginning.

"Right now this campaign's about her," said Rollins, who is a CNN senior political analyst. "Unless she gets her ship righted ... this is not a good start."

Another top GOP strategist, former Bush White House aide Karl Rove, softened his earlier criticism of O'Donnell, whom he described as unelectable last Tuesday.

Appearing on the FOX program, Rove joined other mainstream Republicans in supporting the O'Donnell campaign but called Murkowski's write-in campaign selfish and ultimately unsuccessful.

"She's going to lose," Rove said. "Who would've thought that one of the most conservative states in the country ran the risk of having two liberal Democrats who follow the Obama line representing in the United States Senate? And that's what she could do as a spoilsport."

He added: "This is sad and sorry."

At the same time, Rove denied there was "civil war" between the Tea Party movement and Republicans.

Democrats conceded that the Tea Party movement reflects real anger and frustration with continuing high unemployment and the growing federal deficit.

However, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, the former Virginia governor, told CNN that voters now have clear choices for the November elections with the primary season completed.

"I think the Republicans are moving way to the right of the American electorate," Kaine said of the Tea Party movement's influence.

CNN's Alexander Mooney and Mariano Castillo contributed to this story.

 
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