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Could Christine O'Donnell Actually Win the Senate Seat in Delaware?

4 years ago
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Masturbation, witchcraft and, most recently, her rejection of Hare Krishna due to a love of meatballs, have dominated coverage about Christine O'Donnell since her stunning upset victory in the Republican primary in Delaware. But beyond the dismissive headlines and the late-night jokes, could the Tea Party favorite actually win the Senate seat that once belonged to Vice President Joe Biden?

The initial reaction was a resounding No.

"Not a viable candidate for any office in the state of Delaware," sniffed state Republican Party Chairman Tom Ross after his choice, moderate Congressman Mike Castle, was toppled by the Christian conservative. His assessment was echoed by the local GOP establishment and party heavyweights like Karl Rove. All lamented that what was seen by many as a slam-dunk pick-up for Castle against Democratic New Castle County Executive Chris Coons now amounted to a lost opportunity in blue-hued Delaware.

But now some political observers are saying Maybe.

"Under normal circumstances," the Nov. 2 election is Coons' to lose, said Edward Ratledge, director of the University of Delaware's Center for Applied Demography and Survey Research. But in a year when O'Donnell is only the latest Tea Party outsider to topple an established candidate, these are hardly normal circumstances.

"I don't think you can write anything off," said Ratledge, among many who missed the boat in failing to predict O'Donnell's primary rout.

Ron Williams, a columnist for Delaware's largest newspaper, the News Journal in Wilmington, wrote that if O'Donnell "gets on the daily stump, she'll make a formidable opponent for Chris Coons." He noted that, "Besides all the college credits, debts, gainful employment and Bill Maher archive baggage O'Donnell is lugging around, she has all the prerequisites for a statewide candidate: articulate, attractive, comfortable with the cameras and microphones (she's been doing it for years), and strong convictions for her far-right, wacky positions."

Yes, Williams wrote, O'Donnell is "still a kooky candidate," but Coons would dismiss her fundraising abilities and Tea Party connections at his peril. He notes that she has "raised, or had pledged, some $2.7 million and counting."

Money has poured into O'Donnell's coffers since the primary. In a memo Monday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee admitted Delaware is "a tough blue state for Republicans" but crowed that "O'Donnell raised more money in one week than Chris Coons did in over six months." The campaign committee promised to be up with TV ads on her behalf soon.

Political prognosticators immediately switched Delaware into the blue column upon O'Donnell's victory, but operatives in both parties now take a more cautious approach. Rove was forced to backtrack on his criticism of O'Donnell. Stunned Republican leaders eventually fell in behind her candidacy even as conservative Sen. Jim DeMint's outfit went on the air with a spot touting O'Donnell's defiance of "party bosses" and tying Coons to Washington insiders.

At first, Democrats could barely contain their giddiness at the primary results -- Coons had been widely written off as a loser in a head-to-head contest with Castle. But now some grudgingly give O'Donnell her due.

"Sure she can win," said Ross Baker, a Rutgers University political scientist and former Democratic Senate staffer. "This is a year a deadbeat fabulist who channels Sarah Palin can certainly appeal to a nihilistic electorate."

Other Democrats are no longer laughing, even as Coons enjoys a double-digit lead in polls in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 100,000.

She "should be taken seriously," warned Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, who turned down Democratic Party pleas to run for his father's old Senate seat. O'Donnell is one of "a new batch of extreme Republican candidates" who aim to repeal health care and other reforms, warned Delaware native and former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe in a fund-raising letter to Democrats.

"We don't take anything for granted this cycle," said Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The DSCC is running TV ads attacking O'Donnell for spending campaign money on personal expenses and failing to pay taxes or employees.

Democrats hope their message resonates with Delaware's 150,000 independent voters, whose support will be critical.

"If you have a disinterested group of people who don't go to the polls and they happen to be Democrats, that opens up a possibility if the Republicans are very aggressive and if the independents split toward the Republicans," Ratledge said. He doubts the vote will hinge on qualifications, a sore point for O'Donnell.

"This is not one of those clinical-type decisions where you are looking at the resume," he said. "It will depend whether people vote based upon emotion -- 'I've been out of work six months and those guys in Washington aren't doing anything and we need to send fresh blood down there to kick butt.' "

Joseph Pika, a political scientist at the University of Delaware in Newark, said O'Donnell faces "a very tough task" to win.

"She has to overcome a major advantage in Democratic registrations and unhappiness within the Republican Party among Castle supporters. Although Castle will not run a write-in campaign, he has pointedly refused to endorse her candidacy and Democrats have been making a conscious effort to sing Castle's praises," he said.

Pika enumerated the hurdles ahead for O'Donnell.

"To win, she would need: 1) large numbers of Democrats -- unprecedented numbers -- to stay at home and not vote; 2) large numbers of Democrats to support her as a viable candidate, something that has not happened twice before when she ran; 3) a major embarrassment to become public for the Democratic candidate, Coons; 4) voters getting past the many stories about O'Donnell's past and her credentials as a candidate," he said. "She does have lots of money now which will enable her to run aggressive mail and ad campaigns, but Delaware is not an especially media-intensive state."

Nathan Gonzalez of the Rothenberg Political Report said O'Donnell has yet to prove she can broaden her appeal to independent and Democratic voters.

"She was able to win the primary by boosting conservative turnout, but that's not enough to win a statewide general election in Delaware, particularly in a state where Obama received over 60 percent of the vote," he said. "Let's not forget that she ran for the Senate two years ago and got 35 percent. I think she'll do better than that this year, but it's a long way to 50 percent."

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John Vilvens

Ther are two people in this race. I keep hearing all the negatives about one. Whwt does ***** atand for. Is he the one that said he was a bearded marxist. This just one of his socialist statements. You want to comdemn O'donnell for what she said when she was in high school. When she ran in the primary she told everyone her ideas and where she stood on the issues. People need to look at where both stand on the issues. Then vote for the one that stands for what you want. It is not hard to find out where each stands.

October 12 2010 at 9:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Delaware voters need to question both candidates about important concerns. Where either stands on an issue such as environmental regulations so that a toxic spill as in Hungary may not hurt people in Delaware could affect the voters reactions and votes. Where does either stand on stem cell research? If one is opposed to stem cell research, maybe it will be pointed out that such a candidate does not favor improving life for people in this country. That Ms.O'Donnell has monied interests supporting her is not surprising. Big money is supporting several candidates who will not improve our country.

October 12 2010 at 6:01 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

So this is the best the tea partiers can come up with? Can you really be so naive as to think that "voting out the lefties" in Congress will somehow magically restore jobs in Delaware? That voting for an unqualified perennial loser like O'Donnell will "fix" things? Yes, unemployment is bad in Delaware (still better than in Michigan and Ohio), but sending a know-nothing religious extremist to the Senate will NOT fix that... It was the Republicans under the previous administration who drove our economy into the ditch... and yes, it will take more than a couple years of a new Democratic administration to fix that! It was the Republicans whose tax policies encouraged American corporations to ship manufacturing jobs overseas; the Republicans who got us into two useless wars that they charged on the national credit card; the Republicans and their corporate backers who broke the unions so that you can't find a job that will pay enough to support a family... and on and on, ad infinitum! Tea party demagogues and religious extremists run that party now... and you really want to put THEM back in control of the nation's future?

October 10 2010 at 2:37 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Well, Tom Ross is simply a good judge of what qualifications are vital to ensure whatever candidate who wins the race is capable of govering under all conditions. Witchcraft, masterbation, and any other sience or cultish endeavour are not an asset for any candidate--male,female,animal,monster, playtoy, voodoo dolls or even googoo dolls shouldn't be allowed to muster support in any arena save, perhaps a circus or carnival setting.

October 09 2010 at 6:18 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

If this person--who admittedly "dabbled in witchcraft"--wins the conservative Christian GOP vote, I'd say look for voting fraud. There's no way.

October 07 2010 at 7:42 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rickets99's comment

Please.... that was a stunt in high school that she admitted to on a Bill Mahr "Politically Incorrect" show years ago. Would you like to be judged on what you did in high school? The American people are too smart for this policy of personal destruction!

October 11 2010 at 10:15 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

At least you know what she really thinks and where she stands. If all of the politians told you what they really think, not what you want to hear, she would be a saint.

October 07 2010 at 3:22 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to harley401k's comment

Really? I think that's actually the point... folks in Delaware have NO idea what Christine O'Donnell actually thinks about any substantive issue... We know she's very concerned about premarital sex, about abortion, about people masturbating, and she talks about "shrinking the size of government"... But she won't actually campaign on actual policy issues and positions... She seems to have no actual policy ideas... and has never had a real job other than pushing conservative Christian viewpoints on people, and running for political office in Delaware...

October 10 2010 at 1:24 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

OK just explain how could she be any worse that our existing congress? Remember, Al Franken??

October 07 2010 at 3:20 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to harley401k's comment

I guess it should be noted that Al Franken has a degree in political science from Harvard. His bio also includes that notation that he had a perfect score on the math section of his SAT. (Which probably makes him a little smarter than most of those posting on this board.) Before he ran for senate he was a regular at many union events and "green" seminars. (I know this as I covered a few as part of the media).

October 07 2010 at 7:48 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

Dear corrupt lib media, O'Donnell is a non-issue in comparison to someone like Connecticut's Dick Blumenthal who blatantly lied about serving in Vietnam which he did NOT do ! The question is why haven't we heard more about this and many other front running democrats with "issues" lately ?

October 06 2010 at 1:28 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply

Martha: So.... go with an Obama agenda in the state and don't elect someone to oppose this destruction of our Nation? You know, there will be another election if she fails. I disagree. There are two choices, who are you voting for?

October 06 2010 at 11:40 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Well, I have read most of the comments shown here...and one thing stands out....none of the commenters is from DE. I AM! None of my friends or people I associate with will vote for O'Donnell.If you watched Rachel Maddow last nite, she couldn't find anyone who voted for her,and no one at her campaign HQ would speak with her staff.Someone commented here about her stance on issues.What stance??She speaks in generalities and sound solutions...just talking points. I urge everyone in DE to assure they are registered to vote and then exercise that privilege!! This election is too important to stay home. have no right to complain if you don't vote!!

October 06 2010 at 11:18 AM Report abuse -9 rate up rate down Reply


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