Republicans Squabble in the Wake of O’Donnell’s Victory

September 15, 2010 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

In the wake of Christine O’Donnell’s victory last night over Rep. Mike Castle (R) in Delaware’s GOP Senate primary, pundits are asking how in the world she did it and more importantly, what next?

On the first question, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza cites three reasons: big margins of victory for O’Donnell in the more rural and conservative southern and central parts of Delaware, Castle’s unwillingness to court voters in those areas at all, and the fact that by the time Castle realized he had a problem, it was probably too late.

Cillizza’s critique of Castle is consistent with the complaints conservative tea party activists raised with me during interviews I conducted last week. While it’s unclear whether any degree of outreach would have swayed these folks, tea party group leaders repeatedly referenced the fact that Castle never responded to their requests to show up at their candidate forums, solidifying the impression among voters that he was arrogant and out of touch with the people of his state. Says Cillizza:

While Castle attacked O’Donnell relentlessly over the final two weeks of the race, he did little to hide his disdain for the tea party movement — a purposeful poking-in-the-eye that almost certainly revved up the conservative base against him.

One exasperated Republican strategist noted that Castle repeatedly reminded voters that O’Donnell didn’t have Washington experience — accidentally highlighting a major plus for her in the eyes of voters looking to shake up the status quo.

As to what next, Politico’s Jonathan Martin reports that Republicans in Washington are frustrated and fighting among their ranks, and most likely planning to look elsewhere when it comes to selecting which states to spend their limited resources between now and November:

But now Republicans appear more interested in trying to broaden the map by reaching for West Virginia and Connecticut, where they’re running self-funding candidates, than in trying to back a candidate like O’Donnell, who has little cash and much baggage.

“We will look at the best way to allocate our resources,” is all National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh would say when asked if the committee would support O’Donnell.

Privately, though, senior Senate officials signaled that they were almost certainly finished with Delaware.

The bulk of the frustration, meanwhile, seems concentrated on Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who threw himself into the Delaware race on behalf of O’Donnell against the wishes of most Republicans. DeMint, hardly a favorite among his colleagues as it stood, is now being blamed for imperiling any chances of a GOP takeover of the Senate, but he’s not taking the criticism lying down:

“It speaks volumes that in Jim DeMint’s world, the ‘principles of freedom’ are more important than a candidate who pays their taxes, is honest with voters and who isn’t a complete fraud,” said a senior GOP aide. “Senator DeMint may be patting himself on the back tonight but many Republicans look forward to post-November 2nd when he has to explain why he helped the Democrats retain the majority for yet another two years.”

Firing back, DeMint spokesman Matt Hoskins said: “Based on the number of Republicans DeMint has helped get elected this year, I would say he’s done quite a bit to elect a majority. Perhaps the real reason some Washington insiders are upset is that these Republicans actually have principles.”