On Tuesday night Christine O'Donnell received 30,561 votes and became the Republican nominee for Senate in Delaware. She beat the popular Mike Castle by 3,540 votes.
This shock and awe win has taken the Delaware Republican establishment and the Washington Republican establishment by surprise. It shouldn't have. Consider a few facts:
1. In 2008, Christine O'Donnell ran against Joe Biden for Senate. She lost, but received 140,595 votes in the process. She was a proven vote getter and one can imagine that she received an overwhelming number of Republican votes in that general election.
2. The Republican Party bears responsibility for this outcome. By putting her on the ballot in 2008, she became a creature of their making.
3. This summer the Republican Party met in Rehoboth Beach, DE, and held a caucus vote. O'Donnell didn't show up, but still received one third of the votes. It is worth noting that these votes were cast by party loyalists who know Mike Castle, and who Mike Castle knows on a first names basis. These folks voted against Castle even in that intimate environment. The Castle camp should have see this canary in the coal mine for what it was -- further evidence of the strength of the Tea Party movement.
4. Many polls this summer had Castle under 50 percent in a head to head match-up with Democratic nominee Chris Coons. You can't win a general election in Delaware if you are running under 50 percent.
5. The Republican primary laws doomed Castle. Political parties are always looking for the right balance when determining who to let vote in their primaries and Delaware has a uniquely restrictive requirement. Not only is it a closed primary, meaning only registered Republicans can vote in it, but the deadline for registering was in March -- six months before the general election. By the time Castle's campaign realized how much trouble he was in, it was too late to register new Republican voters.
6. Mike Castle ran like he was 10 points ahead when he should have run like he was five points behind. Every race I've worked on in Delaware, the winning candidate has encouraged campaign staff and supporters to behave as if they were the underdog, and the one in need of a big push. Castle should have been registering voters in Wilmington, his base, over the 2009 holiday season and into the New Year, right up to the March registration deadline.
The mandate O'Donnell won Tuesday night was weak at best, she won about one-sixth of the vote of the state's registered Republicans. That's it.
In 2008, Chris Coons and O'Donnell were on the same ballot for different offices. She ran statewide, lost and got 140,595 votes. (Biden got 257,539 votes in that same election.) Coons, running for New Castle County Executive Director, got 194,005 votes and won. The numbers already look good for Coons and the paltry infrastructure supporting O'Donnell make them look even better. The Republican Party in Delaware is essentially defunct and despite running O'Donnell in 2008, the party has since completely eviscerated her as a credible candidate. The state Republican Party chair claimed she was delusional and couldn't be elected dog catcher and Karl Rove has been even harsher in his critique.
Coons is a proven vote getting machine, he has a record of private sector success, as well as public sector service and a record of positive results. Coons won't trip over the mistakes Castle made; he will run like he has something to prove.
Finally, this general election match-up may be the first genuine Tea Party vs. the Democratic Party of the 2010 cycle. The head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, after a night of embarrassing silence, has offered the token support of $42,500 -- not even close to the reported $250,000 in primary support from the Tea Party. The state party is furious and likely never to forgive the Tea Party and Sarah Palin.
The state Republican Party and the national party have effectively abandoned her, her candidacy and her self-proclaimed "movement" in the general election. This race will prove that while the Tea Party is a potent movement, it is just that. It is not a political party able to elect candidates without riding the financial, organizational and talent infrastructure of the Grand Ol' Party. O'Donnell, unlike Paul in KY and Miller in Alaska, has so alienated the Republican Party and its considerable resources, she is now alone; but her ideology is pure. It would be interesting to see other Tea Party candidates denounce resources from the Republican Party if they really care about a clean break from the past.
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