WASHINGTON — A day after tea party favorite Christine O'Donnell's primary upset victory over his handpicked candidate in Delaware, Senate Republican campaign chief John Cornyn of Texas said he'd support the winner, but stopped short of a ringing endorsement.
"I talked to Christine O'Donnell today and I pledged our support," Cornyn said Wednesday.
Cornyn said it was "no secret" he had recruited Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., as the party's best hope to pick up the seat held for decades by Vice President Joe Biden.
However, Cornyn said that NRSC policy was to support the primary winner and "we are not going to make an exception here."
O'Donnell won by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent with the backing of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and the tea party movement.
"I'm going to respect that vote," he said, despite the uproar in Delaware's state GOP operation over the loss of the popular Castle, a longtime fixture in state politics.
In contrast, Karl Rove, the Austin-based former George W. Bush White House operative, said that O'Donnell had said some "nutty things" and can't win the general election.
Several independent political analysts, including the Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Report, moved the Delaware seat from "likely" Republican to "likely" Democratic column.
"I am not in a panic," Cornyn said of the latest predictions. "I think people are overreacting to a normal part of the political process."
Cornyn said that "I think contested primaries are healthy" but that, "we unite around the nominee."
Cornyn pledged O'Donnell the maximum $42,000 allowed candidates directly, although in competitive general election races with Tea Party candidates, like Florida and Colorado, the NRSC has pledged $2.5 million in support.
In those states and four others — Alaska, Kentucky, Nevada and Utah — Tea Party favorites knocked off GOP establishment candidates.
"We are in play in as many as 12 states," said Cornyn. "There is a wind at our backs."