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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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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