Tea Party Upset in Delaware Primary

Alex Mechanick, Staff Writer

In what may be the single most stunning event of the 2010 primaries, Christine O’Donnell defeated Mike Castle in the Delaware Republican senatorial primary on Tuesday, September 14th.  Mr. Castle, a former governor and nine-time elected member of Congress for Delaware’s at-large district, was a heavy favorite going into the election.  Moreover, in a Democratic-leaning state, he was the only Republican whom pundits thought would have a good chance to win in the general election.  Polling done by PPP just before the primary election showed Castle with a ten point lead over Democrat Chris Coons, 45-35, with 20% of voters still undecided.  But the more conservative O’Donnell trailed Coons in the same poll 34-50, with only 16% of voters reporting they were still undecided.

Ms. O’Donnell is something of a perennial candidate in Delaware.  She ran a failed campaign for the Republican senate nomination in 2006 and was unopposed in the primary in 2008.  She lost by 30 points to Joe Biden in that election, who left his seat to become Vice-President.  Because of this, a special election was held in 2010 to fill Biden’s old seat.  Initially ignored, O’Donnell was viewed as an almost impossible long shot against her well liked opponent Rep. Castle.  However, O’Donnell garnered attention by aligning herself with the tea party movement and portraying Rep. Castle as part of the Washington establishment.  Incorrect reports that Rep. Castle supported the new healthcare law—he co-sponsored legislation to repeal it—and other similar attacks that he was a RINO (Republican in Name Only) were common in right-wing blogs that supported Ms. O’Donnell.

National attention focused on the race only after Joe Miller won the Alaska Republican senatorial primary, beating incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski.  Fueled by right-wing endorsements and funding from the likes of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express, Mr. Miller pulled a stunning upset few saw coming.  Following the Alaska shocker, the Tea Party Express quickly pledged to fund Ms. O’Donnell with over half a million dollars in her fast approaching primary while Sarah Palin endorsed her on Sean Hannity’s radio show.  The Castle camp retaliated to attacks from O’Donnell by highlighting what they referred to as “extreme” positions she held, but to no avail.  Ms. O’Donnell’s momentum carried her to a six point win in the primary against Rep. Castle, 53% to 47%.

Now attention has turned to the general election Ms. O’Donnell will face against Mr. Coons.  He is the executive of New Castle County, home of over 60% of Delaware’s population.  In a break from party tradition, Rep. Castle did not endorse Ms. O’Donnell, but did not endorse Mr. Coons either.  Worryingly for Ms. O’Donnell, the same PPP poll referenced earlier found Castle primary voters supported Coons by a 44% to 28% margin.  In a state widely viewed as “blue” it may be hard for Ms. O’Donnell to raise enough money to overcome her 16 point deficit in the polls.  The eccentricities first raised by the Castle campaign have continued to dog Ms. O’Donnell’s candidacy.  These include reports that Ms. O’Donnell did not receive her college education until 17 years after she attended Fairleigh Dickinson University, stated that homosexuals have “identity disorders”, admitted to “dabbling in witchcraft”, campaigned against porn and masturbation, and is facing questions about illegal uses of campaign money from her 2008 Senate run.

Many Democrats have gone so far as to say that after Ms. O’Donnell’s primary victory, continued Democratic control of the Senate has been assured.  But a very strong turnout among tea party voters in what are often low-turnout midterm elections should make any candidate worried this November, as Rep. Castle found out too late.