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Delaware Republican senate candidate Christine O’Donnell is back in the news today, just two weeks out from the midterm elections, after questioning in a debate whether the Constitution calls for a separation of church and state.

Courtesy of The News Journal.

The debate with Democratic candidate Chris Coons, before students and professors from Widener University Law School, was aired on WDEL and seemed to be more hostile than the nationally televised debate on CNN last week.

The freedom of religion exchange began with Coons, who stated that private schools are free to teach creationism, but “religious doctrine doesn’t belong in our public schools.”

O’Donnell responded, “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” drawing laughter from the crowd. “You’re telling me that’s in the First Amendment?”

Coons, on the other hand, The News Journal reported, was challenged by O’Donnell to name the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. “He deflected.” For the record, it’s press, speech, religion, petition and peaceful assembly. “Perhaps they didn’t teach you constitutional law at Yale Divinity School,” O’Donnell said to gasps. It’s worth noting Coons has a law degree from Yale as well as a Master of Arts in Religion.

Later, O’Donnell was asked about her position on the 14th, 16th and 17th Amendments. She reportedly asked what the first two were. “I’m sorry I didn’t bring my Constitution with me,” she said. “Fortunately, senators don’t have to memorize the Constitution.” The 14th Amendment, which includes language on due process and equal protection, most recently has come under fire for providing citizenship to any person born within the United States. The 16th Amendment deals with the federal income tax. The 17th Amendment allows for the direct election of U.S. senators by popular vote. O’Donnell said she opposes repealing the 16th and 17th Amendments; she was unclear about the 14th, saying the U.S. should close its borders before discussing amnesty.

Going back to her stumble during the CNN debate regarding recent Supreme Court decisions she disagrees with, O’Donnell said her statements during that debate were taken out of context and that there have been few cases in the last few years with which she disagrees. She again cited Roe v. Wade and Kelo v. City of New London, a 2005 case which furthered the government’s eminent domain powers, as bad decisions.

Full audio of the debate, provided by WDEL, is below in three parts.

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Last night Delaware Senate candidates Chris Coons and Christine O’Donnell debated live on primetime CNN (before cutting away to cover the ongoing miner rescues in Chile).

The most widely talked-about moment came when moderator Nancy Karibjanian of Delaware First Media asked O’Donnell about which recent Supreme Court rulings with which she disagreed. O’Donnell fumbled the question. Video and transcript are below.

KARIBJANIAN: Well, we’ve talked about the Supreme Court, and obviously a United States senator has the opportunity to determine in a way the make-up of that court. So what opinions of late that have come from our high court do you most object to?

O’DONNELL: Oh, gosh. Give me a specific one, I’m sorry.

KARIBJANIAN: Actually, I can’t, because I need you to tell me which ones you object to.

O’DONNELL: I’m very sorry. Right off the top of my head, I know that there are a lot, but I’ll put it up on my Web site, I promise you.

BLITZER: Well, we know you disagree with Roe versus Wade.

O’DONNELL: Yes, but that was — she said a recent one.

BLITZER: Well, that’s relatively recent.

O’DONNELL: She said, of late.

Yes, well, Roe versus Wade would not put the power — sorry, it’s 30 (ph)…

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But since then, have there been any other…

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: … Supreme Court decisions?

O’DONNELL: Well, let me say, about Roe versus Wade, Roe versus Wade, if that were overturned, would not make abortion illegal in the United States, it would put the power back to the states.

BLITZER: But besides that decision, anything else you disagree with?

O’DONNELL: Oh, there are several, when it comes to pornography, when it comes to court decisions, not just Supreme Court, but federal court decisions to give terrorists Miranda-ized rights.

I mean, there are a lot of things that I believe that — this California decision to overturn Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, I believe that there are a lot of federal judges who are legislating from the bench.

BLITZER: That wasn’t the Supreme Court, it’s a lower court.

O’DONNELL: That was a federal judge — that’s what I said, in California.

O’Donnell’s campaign later clarified that she opposes the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2005 case Kelo v. City of New London, which in a 5-4 decision held that “the city’s taking of private property to sell for private development qualified as a ‘public use’ within the meaning of the takings clause.”

O’Donnell also defended herself against controversial comments she made on Bill Maher’s talk show “Politically Incorrect,” including a claim that she once dabbled in witchcraft and her belief that evolution is a myth.

“This election cycle should not be about comments I made on a comedy show over a decade and a half ago,” she said. In a similar vein, however, she attacked an article written by Coons in his college newspaper in which he described himself as a “bearded Marxist,” saying, “Forget the bearded Marxist comment, you writing an article saying that you learned your beliefs from an articulate, intelligent Marxist professor and that’s what made you become a Democrat, that should send chills up the spine of every Delaware voter.”

Coons defended the article as ironic.

It’s an article that I wrote as a senior the day of our commencement speech and the title and the content of that clearly makes it obvious that it was a joke. There was a group of folks who I had shared a room with, my roommates junior year, who are in the Young Republican Club and who thought when I returned from Kenya and registered as a Democrat that doing so was proof that I had gone all the way over to the far left end, and so they jokingly called me a bearded Marxist. If you take five minutes and read the article, it’s clear on the face of it, it was a joke. Despite that, my opponent and lots of folks in the right wing media have endlessly spun this. I am not now, nor have I ever been, anything but a clean-shaven capitalist.

So how did the candidates fare through the debate? Coverage has largely focused on O’Donnell, who worked to lower expectations on her performance. The debate would do little to change voters’ minds, Salon’s Steve Kornacki wrote, unless O’Donnell were “able to create some kind of breakthrough moment – or would Coons commit some kind of paralyzing gaffe?” Coons, Kornacki concludes, did not mess up in any meaningful way.

Coons was probably a bit too dismissive of O’Donnell at times, frequently prefacing his replies to her statements by shaking his head and marveling that “there’s just so much there” to respond to. Voters already see that O’Donnell as something of a lunatic; they don’t need Coons pointing it out to them over and over. But his stylistic sins were minor and he committed no major gaffes. Die-hard conservatives surely found plenty of ideological objections to Coons’ statements, but they’re already in O’Donnell’s camp.

Courtesy of the Washington Times

Slate’s Dave Weigel, a Delaware native, noted that he listened to the “over-played” debate and continues to be amazed that the national media is interested in a race where Coons has nearly a 20-point spread.

She’s a competent TV pundit who doesn’t really drill down into policy. Lo and behold, she tossed off a ton of TV lines without saying much about policy. Oh, yes, she spoke about it in soundbite terms, but at every moment where Coons or moderators asked her to take her stance to its logical conclusion, she wandered into Neverland. Really, 10 minutes after she was explaining that it was unfair to judge her on her financial record, she proposed more accountability from people who used emergency rooms because they didn’t have insurance. Or something.

I suppose that the Rise of the Tea Party candidate — and we could say the first one was Sarah Palin, really, as she was given national prominence by conservative bloggers and media — has led to debates with ultra-low expectations for those candidates. I imagine that Sharron Angle will fail to spontaneously combust, and thus be declared a surprise winner on points of her debate with Harry Reid.

The BBC said that O’Donnell’s sassiness could not overcome her shallow answers.

Ms O’Donnell’s sassy, everyday-girl appeal couldn’t obscure the lack of detail in her responses.

Nor could it compensate for her dumbfounded silence when asked to name a recent Supreme Court ruling she disagreed with.

But that might not matter in this election. She successfully touched on the talking points that have proved to resonate so powerfully with conservatives – repeatedly referring to the constitution, railing against “Obamacare” and accusing Mr Coons of being a Marxist.

Some call this “dog-whistle politics” – these kind of references hit a pitch, and speak a language that supporters hear differently, and respond to more strongly, than other constituencies. Ms O’Donnell appears to have mastered the technique.

The Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawick was confused by all the hype surrounding O’Donnell. “I tried to look past all the wild stuff said about her to see what it was about this candidate that led to her upset victory in the primary race, but I honestly couldn’t find any real takeaway. I wanted to see some honesty and new answers, but I saw nothing much to get excited about.” Nevertheless, Zurawick still liked her “better than the drab, smarmy guy she’s running against, Coons.”

Finally, the National Review’s Jim Geraghaty, despite not being a fan of O’Donnell, criticized Coons’ answers as unsurprising and banal and moderators Karibjanian and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer as in the tank for the Democrat.

I’m not inclined to agree with the positions of Democrat Chris Coons, but he struck me as terrible. I wondered if he felt a bit like Al Gore taking on Dan Quayle in 1992 or Joe Biden taking on Sarah Palin in 2008; the opponent was supposed to be a blithering idiot and anything less than a TKO would be a disappointment. But Coons seemed intent to play it safe, to the point where the local moderator, Schoolmarm McFavoritism, had to invite him to jump in twice. Several times he said he didn’t have the required time to answer the questions, and so he punted. His answers were pat, predictable, almost rote recitation of standard-issue Democratic talking points. As I said on Twitter, the generic ballot numbers in Delaware may be strangely relevant, since it seems Chris Coons is the Generic Democratic Candidate.

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It’s Wednesday, the day after the Republican primary for Delaware’s open Senate seat, and the smoke is starting to clear. “O’DONNELL IN SHOCKER,” my copy of the News Journal screamed this morning. Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell took 53 percent of the vote and the win. Mike Castle, her opponent, former Delaware governor and nine-term congressman and the GOP pick, managed 47 percent, losing his first election ever.

“Don’t ever underestimate the power of the people,” O’Donnell said in her victory speech. “We the people will have our voice heard in Washington once again. This isn’t just about the U.S. Senate race. This is about changing the political system in Delaware so that more everyday Americans can step up to the plate without worrying about character assassinations.”

[The end of that quote seems a little disingenuous, as O’Donnell and her campaign attacked Castle mercilessly, portraying him as a liberal, alleging that his operatives hide in her bushes and implying he is gay.]

O’Donnell, whom the National Republican Senatorial Committee says it will not back in the general election, will face Democrat Chris Coon, the county executive of New Castle County. This primary upset has forced political forecasters and operatives to alter their predictions for the November election. Previously, Castle had been predicted to win Vice President Joe Biden’s old seat; now, because Castle was relying on Democratic and independent support to win and such support is unlikely to go to O’Donnell, Republicans are essentially abandoning the race to Coons.

Now it’s time for the media post-mortem. Delaware is lavished in the kind of attention it rarely receives, and since the interest will likely fade quickly it’s time to get as much as possible.

The News Journal’s Ron Williams, writing yesterday before the primary upset, noted the marked shift in primary campaign strategies. The new emphasis puts less faith in party support and recognizes the increasingly powerful communications tools grassroots campaigns utilize.

This has been the most unpredictable and bizarre primary campaign I’ve ever seen going back to the early 1970s, when primaries were brought into the picture by the two major parties. Before that, the party power brokers and candidates handled the nominations for office by hand-picking their convention delegates. It was actually a very workable, albeit rocky, process. Nowadays we have television and cable advertising, bigger roadside signs, more radio stations to choose for a candidate’s message and the tea party.

Slate’s Dave Weigel, a native Delawarean, writes a “requiem for Mike Castle.”

I see a lot of conservatives arguing tonight that Christine O’Donnell’s victory shows that she can upset the establishment and win this seat. These conservatives are not from Delaware. O’Donnell won a slim majority in a race with around 58,000 Republican voters. She won Kent and Sussex counties, the conservative parts of the state. But even in scoring a massive upset, she lost New Castle County. That’s where 2/3 of the state lives, and where, in the past, I saw yards with Obama/Biden and Castle signs, Kerry/Edwards and Castle signs, Gore/Lieberman and Castle signs — you get the picture. There are tens of thousands of Delawareans who were expecting to vote for Mike Castle who are now given a choice between their workmanlike county executive, Chris Coons, and a woman who spent two weeks on the cover of the News Journal for stories about her trouble paying college fees, her lawsuit against her former employer ISI, her appearance in a MTV special about abstinence, etc, and etc, and etc. She got such rough treatment from the paper that she stopped talking to it.

Over at Salon, Steve Kornacki debunks the same Tea Party claims Weigel dismisses.

Tea Partiers, of course, will argue that O’Donnell will catch us all by surprise in November just as she did in this primary campaign. But her image with the general public seems to mirror that of the Tea Party: rabid enthusiasm among the GOP base, hostility from most others. Running in a GOP primary that was closed to independent and Democrats presented her with a voting universe just narrow enough for her to post a win. The November electorate will be much broader, and even though the casual November voters of 2010 will be strongly inclined to vote against Democrats, it’s hard to imagine someone with her image problems — which will probably only get worse with the media shining even more light on her — garnering a majority.

In a separate post, Kornacki says Beau Biden must be kicking himself right now. The attorney general and son of VP Joe Biden considered a run, but announced in January he would not.

The presence of Castle, with his broad popularity, and the increasingly toxic political climate for Democrats started to give Beau Biden cold feet. He was 40 years old and ambitious, but he had to be careful: The prospect of losing to Castle in a ’10 election was real. How badly would that damage his image and his long-term prospects? Plus, it’s not like Castle would stick around for decades, right? He’d probably win the seat in ’10, treat the next four years as a well-earned career-capper, then ride off into the sunset in 2014. Then Beau could run for the seat himself (probably in a much better climate) and take his rightful place on the national stage. …

Now, it will be a shocker if Chris Coons doesn’t win in November. He just turned 47 a few weeks ago, meaning that he could be in the Senate for decades to come, sitting in the Senate seat that Joe Biden held for 38 years — and that his son was too apprehensive to seek on his own.

U.S. News’ John Aloysius Farrell says there are several ways to view O’Donnell’s victory.

Another way of looking at the Delaware results is to marvel, once again, at the influence of the economy on American politics. You can say all you want about ideology and celebrity and tactics. The truth is that throughout American history, it’s the Panics and Depressions and great Recessions that reliably spur political revolutions. Why should our era be any different? Let’s see. I’ve lost my job and I cannot find work. They are sending my kids to fight wars we cannot win. The government is borrowing zillions from China to bail out everyone but me. My 401k has lost a third of its value and the value of my home has tanked. Sure, I’ll return an incumbent to Washington.

The third alternative is disturbing. I understand Massachusetts and Utah and Alaska and even Kentucky–I’m a bit of a libertarian myself. But the actions of Republican voters in Delaware and Nevada take one’s breath away. Madams O’Donnell and Angle are loony ditzes. Angry or not, folks, voting is serious stuff. We are talking about our country, our children, and our patriotic obligations. Senators vote on nuclear arms treaties, and Supreme Court nominees. Hello?

Dan Balz, writing in The Washington Post, links O’Donnell’s victory to greater trends across the nation.

The outcome was the latest in a string of embarrassments for the Republican establishment this year, underscoring the civil war that continues to rage in the party. Last month, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska lost her primary to political newcomer Joe Miller, who like O’Donnell had the support of Palin and tea party activists. Last spring, tea party forces defeated Sen. Robert F. Bennett of Utah at the Republican state convention.

Those were the most prominent Republicans to fall to the grass-roots movement that is roiling the party, but hardly the only ones. Establishment-backed candidates in Kentucky, Nevada, Colorado and Connecticut also lost in their primaries, and in Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist bolted the party rather than risk losing the Senate nomination to conservative Marco Rubio.

But in some ways, what happened to Castle was the most shocking of all the races this year. O’Donnell is a perennial candidate – she lost the Senate race to Biden two years ago – who was attacked by the party establishment.

The Post’s Ezra Klein says Castle’s loss is part of an orchestrated Tea Party plan to exert control over mainstream Republican politicians.

Rep. Mike Castle’s defeat was proof that no heterodox Republican is safe from a primary defeat — it doesn’t matter how popular you’ve been, or how clearly purple your electorate was. You’re not safe. You’re never safe.

Politicians are, by nature, a fearful species. But their nightmares became a lot more specific last night. The Tea Party, for all its unexpected successes, cannot topple every incumbent Republican in the country. But by toppling the right ones, it can make every incumbent Republican vote and speak and act with the Tea Party in mind.

Finally, James Barnes, writing for the National Journal’s Hotline, attributes O’Donnell’s win to expanding working class areas of the state.

How did Christine O’Donnell go from being a weak third place finisher in the ’06 Delaware Republican Senate primary to slaying the party’s top vote getter, Rep. Mike Castle, and becoming the GOP 2010 Senate nominee today? An analysis of the returns from the state’s 41 election districts shows that O’Donnell did it by winning working class towns and suburbs, the fastest growing parts of the state, and Delaware’s reliably conservative turf in Kent and Sussex Counties. Castle did well in Wilmington and the old-line GOP suburbs outside of Wilmington as well as in Newark, home to the University of Delaware. But these areas that were once the base for moderate Republicans on the East Coast, like Castle, had a relatively lower turnout in the primary compared their percentage of registered Republicans in the state.

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There’s only a week to go before the Delaware Republican primary, and the two campaigns have really stepped up advertising. While Castle focuses more on his own legislative record and his fiscally conservative policies, O’Donnell has thrown out more negative ads as she has no legislative record of her own to promote. Only recently has Castle gone negative, attacking O’Donnell’s shaky campaign practices.

Chris Coons, the Democratic candidate for the seat, has released some short campaign videos but is saving his TV ad buy for after Castle and O’Donnell have duked it out. Below, check out their ads with some additional background and commentary.

Christine O’Donnell

“If you’re tired of back-room deals and mudslinging, and you want a qualified citizen politician to go to Washington and serve, then I’m asking for your vote on September 14. To get our country back on track we must replace career politicians with citizen politicians who represent you.”

O’Donnell begins this radio ad by announcing she is running for “the Senate seat once held by Joe Biden.” Biden is very popular in Delaware except among the strongest of conservatives, and by connecting the now-Vice President to “back-room deals and mudslinging” O’Donnell is hoping to inspire Republicans who may not have voted in the upcoming Republican primary to side with her instead of not voting or voting for Castle.

This TV ad has roughly the same script but the added benefit of books in the background espousing O’Donnell’s opposition to Obama and endorsement by the Tea Party. Clearly visible behind O’Donnell are copies of “The Tea Party Papers: A Collection of Essays to Tea Party Patriots,” by Bill Miller, released in March. The tome (at nearly 750 pages the book weighs in at 2.7 pounds) is newly popular among Tea Partiers and espouses a philosophy of individual rights and natural law. The other book is “Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies,” by conservative blogger and talking head Michelle Malkin, published in 2009, an even more popular book. O’Donnell cleverly endorses these books’ views without having to criticize Castle directly.

“Liberal Mike Castle just keeps supporting the failed policies of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Mike Castle is so liberal he voted for Barack Obama’s agenda nearly 60 percent of the time. He voted for the bailouts; he voted for the anti-business cap-and-trade bill; he opposes repealing Obama’s health-care scheme. He continues to support the failed policies that have brought our country towards economic destruction. Delaware Republicans deserve better. That’s why the Tea Party Express, Citizens United and the Independence Hall Tea Party support common sense-conservative Christine O’Donnell. O’Donnell opposed the bailouts; she opposed Obama’s massive deficit spending; and O’Donnell strongly supports the repeal of Obama’s health-care scheme.

This ad, paid for by the Tea Party Express, throws aside subtlety in favor of painting Castle not as a career politician but rather as a liberal RINO — Republican In Name Only. Castle is generally considered a more moderate Republican, but according to the Washington Post’s legislative tracking Castle has voted with Republicans 87.3 percent of the time this term. The American Conservative Union, which rates legislators on 25 bills selected to create clear ideological distinctions, most recently gave Castle a rating of 56 for 2009 and 52 over his political lifetime.

“In 2008 the American Conservative Union ranked Mike Castle one of the most liberal Republicans in Congress, giving him a score of just 28 out of a hundred. Delaware Republicans deserve better. That’s why the Tea Party Express and Mark Levin support common sense-Republican Christine O’Donnell for U.S. Senate.”

This television ad from the Tea Party Express has much the same content and tone, although it cites an outdated ranking from the ACU. That 28 figure, in marked contrast to the 56 rating cited in the previous ad, comes from the ACU’s 2008 scores (Castle scored even lower, 20, in 2007). The ad also conjures up O’Donnell’s endorsement from Mark Levin, a conservative political commentator and author, most recently, of “Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto.”

———

Mike Castle

“I think there’s a serious problem with respect to where Congress and the administration are going now. We’re increasing debt at a rate we’ve never seen before. I just believe that we need to step into government and say, enough’s enough. Where can we do those things that can balance our budget? We should pay more attention to what America was built on. People were given an opportunity to thrive and to grow and to create jobs for people, and that’s just not happening today.”

Castle’s ads tend to have better production quality than Christine O’Donnell’s, but Castle has far more in his war chest and is courting more liberal voters as well. Here Castle shows his skills at speaking plainly and articulately. Like in most 30-second spots, he stay away from legislative specifics, but Castle does position himself against furthering government spending. That could be a thorny issue among fiscal conservatives for the moderate Castle, but as the conservative magazine National Review points out, Castle has opposed most spending bills, including TARP, the ARRA and Obama’s health-care plan.

Perhaps more importantly, Castle slyly explains that he is ending his 17-year House run now because he can do more for conservative causes in the Senate. While O’Donnells ads right now are focused on the September 14 Republican primary, Castle’s spots have the flexibility to appeal to both primary and general election voters.

“Under President Obama and the Democratic House and Senate, we’re increasing debt at a rate we’ve never seen before. Candidly, I don’t know how we’re going to be able to work our way through the economic problems that we have out there if we continue to spend at these levels. We need to step into government and say, enough’s enough. Where can we make the reductions and the cuts and give everybody an opportunity to be able to grow their own business, create jobs and do better for their families in our country?”

This ad carries mostly the same message. Like the previous, it includes Castle’s slogan: “A Fiscal Conservative.” It smartly sets himself up for support from independents who lean fiscally conservative but are more liberal on cultural issues.

“Do you recognize this Delaware politician? Here’s some hints. According to the News Journal, she didn’t pay thousands in income taxes, had to be sued by a university for thousands in unpaid bills, defaulted on her mortgage. She ran up a huge campaign debt, and left vendors and staff unpaid while using campaign funds to pay her own rent and personal expenses. Say hello to Christine O’Donnell.”

Featuring a shifting picture puzzle of his Republican opponent, Castle finally goes on the offensive. As O’Donnell has never been elected to any office, she has no real political record to attack. Instead, Castle is relying on some of her campaign and personal indiscretions.

O’Donnell’s diploma from Fairleigh-Dickinson University, which she was supposed to get in 1993, was held back until last week. O’Donnell’s campaign said the degree was withheld while she paid back student loans, but their also noted she completed a final course this summer to obtain the bachelor’s in English. Court documents from 1994 indicated she owed the New Jersey institution more than $4,800.

The rest of the ad is essentially true. More details and sourcing can be found at a Castle-run anti-O’Donnell website, realchristine.com.

It’s not actually all that difficult to portray O’Donnell as nutty. In her most recent gaffe, O’Donnell claimed her opponents are stalking her. “They’re following me. They follow me home at night. I make sure that I come back to the townhouse and then we have our team come out and check all the bushes and check all the cars to make sure that — they follow me.”

 ———

Chris Coons

“Why I’m interested in and care about folks of all different backgrounds has a lot to do with the really unusual path I’ve taken in life. … The concrete, bottom-line business sense that I got in those eight years [as in-house counsel for W.L. Gore & Associates] has helped make me a better county executive and help make me capable of delivering real values to the people of Delaware. … Delaware’s a state of neighbors. Delaware’s a small place. It’s the kind of state where everybody knows each other. We’re one degree of separation in Delaware. That means our elected officials are held accountable — and they ought to be. … Taking the higher road, helping America lift its sights and do things that are in its real interest for the long run, that’s what I feel called to do.”

This spot introduces Coons, mixing his biography with his personal philosophy and government achievements. Coons faces the additional challenge of creating his image as a candidate. He has a leg up, having been the elected executive of New Castle County, home to 500,000 of the state’s 885,000 residents, since 2005. Nevertheless, Coons is not well-known in the state’s southern counties, and even in New Castle faces something of an image problem.

Here much of his rhetoric echoes that of Obama during the 2008 election, focusing on long-term planning and accountability. He also smartly and correctly identifies the state as a small community; as Castle recently noted in Slate, “Generally speaking, I get recognized. If they show no sign of recognition, I assume they’re not from Delaware.” Delaware’s small congressional delegation, including Senators Tom Carper and Ted Kaughman and formerly Joe Biden, are often recognized in public. Coons plays off that here.

“Offshore drilling is a bad idea for Delaware. It doesn’t make sense to me for us. … The consequences, sadly, have now been made horribly clear. When the president came out with a proposal to open our outer continental shelf to oil exploration, drilling for oil off of Delaware’s coast, I said no. I disagreed with it immediately. It was wrong for Delaware, and it’s wrong for something I strongly oppose, even if that means disagreeing with the president.”

In his only issue-specific spot released so far, Coons discusses off-shore drilling. Predictably, discussions of the consequences of such drilling are glossed over with images from the massively damaging (and unpopular) Gulf Coast oil spill. Although it doesn’t have a great deal of coastline, Delaware’s beaches are critical economic areas for the state, serving as vacation hotspots and bringing in tourist dollars. Coons also distances himself from Obama somewhat by noting his opposition to the president’s drilling plan, working to gain over independent voters who may not like Obama but are wary of Republicans.

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The Tea Party Express, one of the major national Tea Party groups, will soon launch a $250,000 media campaign for Christine O’Donnell, a Tea Party candidate challenging longtime Congressman Mike Castle for the Delaware Republican senate nomination this fall. The primary is September 14, just two weeks away, meaning that money will likely have some serious impact on the airwaves. What does this mean for the small state (my home) and for national politics?

Mike Castle. Courtesy Castle for Senate.

First, some background; the seat is that formerly occupied by now-Vice President Joe Biden and currently occupied by Ted Kaufman, who was appointed in 2008 and never planned to run for reelection. (The state’s other senate seat has been held by former governor Tom Carper since 2000; he was reelected in 2006 with 70 percent of the vote.) Castle, 71, has served as Delaware’s sole representative in the House since 1993; prior to that he served two terms as governor. In 2008, he was reelected with 61 percent of the vote.

Christine O'Donnell with Michele Bachmann. Courtesy O'Donnell 2010.

O’Donnell, 41, was the Republican nominee against Biden in the 2008 election; she lost to him by a 30-point spread. She worked for the Republican National Committee before moving to Delaware to work for conservative publisher Intercollegiate Studies Institute; more recently she has worked as a marketing consultant and political commentator, often on Fox News.

The Democratic nominee is Chris Coons, 46, the county executive for New Castle County, the largest county in Delaware with approximately half a million residents. Coons previously clerked for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and worked for the “I Have a Dream” Foundation. Although Coons was elected handily three times, New Castle is the most liberal of Delaware’s three counties.

Eight polls conducted since October 2009 have shown Castle defeating Coons, although the Democrat has been gaining slight ground on the moderate Republican. Four polls show Coons easily beating O’Donnell in November; the most recent put Coons winning against O’Donnell 44-37 (and losing to Castle 48-35).

This new Tea Party backing for O’Donnell has the state GOP worried. In a release, after blasting her for shooting video for commercials at Saturday’s Glenn Beck rally in D.C., they trash her as dishonest and against Republican interests in the state.

O’Donnell has been cited repeatedly lying to voters and manipulating her own political history. Recently, O’Donnell has claimed that she won two out of three counties in Delaware in her 2008 race against then-Senator Joe Biden. Election results show that Biden won overwhelmingly against O’Donnell and that she did not win any counties in the state of Delaware.

Her campaign appears to be getting desperate as the Republican primary is only two weeks away. The most recent Rasmussen poll has shown her support drop by five points in only a month to 36 percent – robbing her of the talking point that she would beat Democrat Chris Coons in November.

The Republican primary is closed to Democrats and independents, and O’Donnell seems confident she can defeat the more moderate Castle in such a primary. Money-wise, even steeped in Tea Party dough O’Donnell is woefully behind Castle, who recently reported raising over $3 million for his campaign.

Everyone, the media especially, loves a surprise victory from a dark horse candidate (coughjoemillercough), so this race will certainly draw increased national interest for the next couple of weeks and likely through November.

Bonus: Far less attention has been paid to Delaware’s House race now that Castle is running for the Senate. The Democratic candidate will likely be former lieutenant governor John Carney. The Republican nomination is still largely up for grabs while two businesspeople fight out a primary. However, it may not matter; Castle largely relied on popularity and longevity to maintain his at-large House seat. Delaware has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of D+7, making it even more likely the seat will shift parties.

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