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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