Now that anti-masturbation crusader Christine O’Donnell has defeated opponent Mike Castle in the Delaware Republican Senate Primary, and Carl Paladino has dispatched Rick Lazio, thus earning the GOP nomination for governor of New York, it appears that the most popular headline today is “Tea Party Candidates Defeat GOP.” Before we get to November, I’ve just one question: What’s a “Tea Party candidate”?

Unless I’m mistaken, both O’Donnell and Paladino -- and most every other person dubbed a “Tea Party candidate” in the past -- are registered Republicans. Not only that, but they’re registered Republicans who are running for Republican office. Outside of being a Buckley, I’m not sure how much more Republican a person can get. And yet because O’Donnell and Paladino have won the support of some semi-political, regional social clubs, they’re now “Tea Party candidates.”

The oft-embroiled New Black Panther Party endorsed Barack Obama’s bid for president, but nobody ever called Obama a “New Black Panther candidate.” On the opposite end of the spectrum, some people in the Klan backed McCain in 2008, but we never said McCain was a “KKK candidate.” Even if we set aside the radical examples, nobody using common parlance ever says phrases like “AFL-CIO candidate,” “HRC candidate” or “NAACP candidate.”

Calling Republican candidates “Tea Party candidates” is silly for a lot of reasons, but it’s especially wrongheaded for Democrats to the use the term. Rather, the left should be pouncing on the O’Donnell and Paladino wins and making the obvious point: there is no such thing as Tea Party candidates; there are only Republican candidates whose policy positions put them just to the left of David Duke. Instead of helping Republicans draw distinctions between themselves and the fringe elements Karl Rove actively courted, Democrats need to say, “Make no mistake: Christine O’Donnell is a Republican who believes masturbating is adultery and that funding for AIDS research should be cut. Is this the type of person you’d like to align yourself with? If not, you should consider what centrist Democrats have to offer.”

-Cord Jefferson is a staff writer at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.