Tea Party Favorite O’Donnell Takes Delaware
Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell stands with Tea Party protesters in Delaware. (O'Donnell campaign)
On the question of whether Christine O’Donnell — a two-time failed candidate and one-time anti-masturbation crusader — was suitable for office, Democratic and Republican operatives wholeheartedly agreed. She would never win the Delaware Republican Senate primary, they said this summer.
[Congress1] But tonight, voters begged to differ. A little after 9 p.m., the Associated Press declared that O’Donnell had beaten out nine-time Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), winning 53 percent of voters to Castle’s 47. She will now face Democrat Chris Coons, an attorney from Wilmington, for the Senate seat vacated by Vice President Joe Biden in 2008. Democrats can rejoice that Coons, a long shot against Castle, now enjoys a substantial lead in most early polls against O’Donnell, who many believe is too radical to win a general election.
O’Donnell had run unsuccessfully as a candidate twice before in Delaware, and has a history of making bizarre statements — such as claiming she won counties in a race against Joe Biden. (She did not.) Thus, the media and even the Castle campaign ignored her through much of her primary bid.
Then came the Tea Party Express, a California-based organization whose PAC, Our Country Deserves Better, vocally supported O’Donnell. Exhilarated by an upset primary victory in Alaska, in which the group had propelled tea party candidate Joe Miller over incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) by a tiny margin, Express promised to infuse political advertising dollars into the Delaware race and nudged Sarah Palin to eventually lend her star power to O’Donnell as well.
Like Alaska, Delaware has a small voting population and few media markets — making it easy for outside infusions of money to have a big impact on an election. Unlike Alaska, however, Republicans recognized the dire nature of O’Donnell’s challenge and began leaking juicy and unsavory tidbits about her character and history to any news outlet that would listen.
A Wilmington News Journal article from March surfaced, in which the local paper reported that O’Donnell had owed money to her university, on a home mortgage, and to the IRS at various points in the past, and that her campaign committee still owed money from her previous unsuccessful Senate run. A Weekly Standard piece featured O’Donnell making strange and unverifiable claims about her previous home and campaign offices being vandalized by her political opponents. And the Huffington Post reported that O’Donnell had no steady source of income.
This news, combined with more bitter, personal attacks against Castle — like the allegation of a former O’Donnell staffer that he was having a homosexual affair — drove many Republicans, even those sympathetic to or engaged in tea party politics, away from O’Donnell. RedState’s Erick Erikson publicly gave up on the candidate due to her campaign’s lack of professionalism. FreedomWorks, another tea party training ground, refused to get behind her.
The state GOP chairman, Tom Ross, for his part, was downright hostile to O’Donnell and the outside groups that got behind her. Ross repeatedly called O’Donnell a “perennial candidate” with no real ties to Delaware, and later commented that she “could not be elected dogcatcher.”
That fact that O’Donnell has now secured the GOP nomination presents an awkward problem for the Republican candidate and her state party, which had vowed not to help her should she win. O’Donnell will likely continue to receive aid from enthusiastic outside conservative groups, but will face an uphill battle in convincing mainstream organizations that she has a real shot at attracting independent or even moderate Republican votes.
Democrats, for their part, have a whole trove of opposition research against O’Donnell, found by Republican operatives who tried to discredit her campaign. Just yesterday, a former O’Donnell aide, Kristin Murray, recorded a robocall that labeled her “a complete fraud.”
“This is her third Senate race in five years. As O’Donnell’s manager, I found out she was living on campaign donations — using them for rent and personal expenses, while leaving her workers unpaid and piling up thousands in debt,” Murray said. “She wasn’t concerned about conservative causes. O’Donnell just wanted to make a buck.”