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Christine O'Donnell Falls Short to Chris Coons in Delaware

4 years ago
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With a fresh-faced exuberance matched only by missteps and gaffes, Christine O'Donnell and her quirky personality captivated the nation and dominated news coverage even in this extraordinary campaign.

But neither her reality show appeal nor blanket publicity were enough to convince Delaware voters to make the Republican candidate and tea party favorite their senator.

O'Donnell lost big on Tuesday to the Democrat, the wonkish county executive Chris Coons, in a contest the GOP had once considered a surefire pickup. It was particularly sweet revenge for Democrats in that it was Vice President Joe Biden's longtime seat.

Not that the 17-point defeat dimmed O'Donnell's trademark spunk.

"We had an incredible victory. We have won," an upbeat O'Donnell told supporters. "We were victorious because the Delaware political system will never be the same. The Republican Party will never be the same. And that's a good thing."

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It was an unorthodox concession speech that was vintage O'Donnell, in that she recounted how she called Coons to congratulate him on his win but also lectured him on what he should and should not do in Washington. O'Donnell said she told Coons he should watch her 24-minute campaign commercial, which she failed to have broadcast as planned on Sunday because her staff did not deliver the tape to the television station on time.

It's unlikely that Republican leaders see O'Donnell's defeat through such a rose-colored lens. In September, O'Donnell's victory over the state's popular Republican moderate, Rep. Mike Castle, in the GOP primary completely changed the dynamic of a race that GOP leaders were counting on to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats.

Yet after O'Donnell's stunning victory over the popular Castle, the media immediately highlighted the 41-year-old O'Donnell's track record of tax problems, financial woes and staff meltdowns. Even those problems were overshadowed by a steady drip of leaks from videotape archives of her many earlier television appearances as a Christian activist, in which she crusaded against masturbation, or admitted she "dabbled into witchcraft" before finding Jesus again.

As the campaign wore on, O'Donnell's mistakes on constitutional matters like the First Amendment's ban on establishing a state religion, and her claim that God had called her to run -- and the prayers of her faithful backers would propel her to victory -- did not help her poll numbers, though they did make her a media star.

Research from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism showed that after President Obama, O'Donnell was the top newsmaker in 2010, meaning she was the focus of more stories than any other candidate -- and she performed that feat in just a few weeks, whereas the president has been in the news all year.

Still, none of that could save O'Donnell from herself, or from Delaware's notoriously middle-of-the-road voters, who favored Coons by a margin of 57-40 percent.

"Nearly half the state's voters describe themselves as moderate," CNN's Rebecca Sinderbrand wrote in an analysis based on exit polls. "Nearly another 1 in 4 call themselves liberal. This is Biden country: 58 percent of Delaware voters say they approve of President Obama's job performance. And 36 percent say they strongly oppose the tea party."

One surprise, Sinderbrand noted, is that despite pre-election polls showing Castle easily beating Coons in a hypothetical matchup, "the voters who turned out today said they would still probably have sent Coons to Washington over Castle, backing him 44-43 percent."

Still, there was a sense that O'Donnell's candidacy represented a lost opportunity for the GOP. There were other signs on election night that O'Donnell and her tea party fans did her party more harm than good in Delaware.

For example, the same night in September that Delaware's Republican primary voters chose O'Donnell over Castle, they also nominated real estate developer Glen Urquhart to run for Castle's congressional seat, and Urquhart proceeded to make O'Donnell look moderate at times.

As a result, Democrat John Carney, the state's former lieutenant governor, rolled to victory in Castle's once secure old seat, a net pick up for Democrats in a year no candidate with a "D" after their name could feel safe.

Now the interesting question -- and more unpredictable forecast -- surrounds Christine O'Donnell's future.

Could she become another Sarah Palin?

They are both attractive, plain-spoken, gaffe-prone conservative women with national profiles who hail from states with tiny populations (700,000 in Palin's Alaska and less than 900,000 in Delaware). True, O'Donnell has an even thinner political resume than Palin's half-term as Alaska's governor. But O'Donnell also has much more television exposure -- to her chagrin, at times -- having appeared regularly on Bill Maher's HBO show, "Politically Incorrect," among other venues.

"I think this is the start of Christine O'Donnell as political celebrity," said Rachel Maddow, MSNBC's popular liberal pundit. "She is an incredibly polished television personality."

With much less experience on the tube, Palin parlayed her galvanizing personality into a Fox News gig and a reality show, and came back from an electoral loss to become a political queenmaker whose beneficiaries from Tuesday's vote could set her up for a presidential run in 2012.

O'Donnell likely can't aim that high, but she could be an influence, and Tuesday night signaled she may try to be just that.

"Our voices were heard and we're never going to be quiet now," O'Donnell said. "This is just the beginning, and we've got a lot of work to do."

The other thing O'Donnell has going for her is that unlike Palin, she is single, instantly making her the tea party's most eligible bachelorette and a magnet for more media coverage -- whether that's a good thing or not.

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24 Comments

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Chuck

It is indeed a low point for American politics when such baffoons like O'Donnell, Palin, Angle, and on and on and on, can even be considered more than what they are: narsisistic wanna-be's whose desperate claim for fame propels them to think they are fit for national office. Very, very sad.

November 05 2010 at 2:10 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
jforgit9

Perhaps the most ridiculous candidate for the Senate in many years. Completely unqualified for the job. Good work citizens of Delaware. Many Republicans elected yesterday will be good additions to our government......this would not have been one of them !

November 03 2010 at 8:33 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
C.C. Gravenor

You could've done without the "I'm not a witch" in your ad...That opened up a whole series of doubt in most church going people...

November 03 2010 at 1:19 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
mompkp7

Chris Coons won by playing.....dirty.........do we need this in Congress? I thought the corruption is what we needed to get away from........

November 03 2010 at 12:21 PM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mompkp7's comment
Ed

Chris Coons won because the majority of the people in Delaware were intelligent enough to figure out that McDonnell is woefully under qualified to be a Senator. The scary thing is that in more than a few of our more backwards states (no need to name, you know which ones I mean) O'Donnell would have most likely actually won.

November 05 2010 at 10:44 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
dc walker

I don't think we are sending the best to congress. Either they don't want to fight political parties, unions, corrupt media, etc. or what?? I listened to a candidate from Maryland this am on talk radio. He outlined how the Washington Post went after him, how his opponents stole his signs that he put up himself, and how he was maligned. He had a great message, etc. Why did they not like him? He was a black man and he was a republican, horrors, the Post would never allow that. There was a Lt. Col, Army running against a man in VA who only showed up 15% of the time except for a raise, he also got elected but he was a dem and that was good enough for the Post.

November 03 2010 at 12:06 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
dcmoynihan

Nice to know she considers the outcome a victory. Once considered a sure thing for the GOP candidate, it is now in the hands of Democrats for six years. Tea Party hubris. Sarah Palin should take a lesson from this débâcle. Voters may be drawn to quirky personalities and contrarian candidates, but elections rarely see these ephemeral spirits being sworn into office. Voters may indeed be pragmatic.

November 03 2010 at 10:05 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
MIKE4EVER

The majority of people knew how the outcome would be and also know that what is to followis going to be even worse. In order for things to fall into place and let people know that racism and hatred is dying slowly,the ones who used that as a weapon had to get elected to show the ones that they have been used and used big time. Everyone wanted to blame the president because things didn't move fast enough,without realizing nothing that is good for you get done fast, only when it is bad. Now those who were elected will find out what common sense people knowm when you don't have a solution nothing will work. Know they will get the chance to get with all the big businesses and see how much profit they can meet. It is easy to say in words what you will do without looking at all the information. It is going to be good to see the freshman do what all freshman do, make a fool of themselves and watch the senior make a double fool of themselves. At least they both warned each other so the fireworks will start as soon as they get to work. In all of this the ones who are going to get hurt the most are those who cannot let go of the past and live in the future. within a year they will be crying to get rid of them and begging for help from the president. Tne good thing is they get to enjoy all the benefits of the program the presidnet will past with therest of us

November 03 2010 at 7:28 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to MIKE4EVER's comment
tcatgeralds

z geeeezz I'm not sure I listened correctly? Or read right? But Yowww!

November 04 2010 at 8:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
volker19831

Idiots are most voters; birthers; tea party; total wack job that put forth no plan of action. angle when down to reid, that was a no brainer, but could have gone the other way. most powerful sen. for a freshman, bathroom tea party attendant. one, angle who thinks rape woman, even if by a blood relative should, no must have the kid. nuts. D's say you want the kid, keep it, don't want the kid w/ the 3 heads don't keep it; a right of choice. stupid voter's and bush wmd how many? 0 and 8yrs to screw up the usa, 2 yrs d's can't fix so go back to the liars? just nuts would listen to conclusion instead of ideas.

November 03 2010 at 6:37 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
johnalton77

I will thank God and the American people everyday that O'Donnell did not win. Faith in the baseline intelligence of the American voter has been restored. I was very worried for our country and shuddered at the thought of having someone like O'Donnell in office as we face mature issues such as world economy, China, and Afghanistan. Also, justice has been served to some of the people on Carly Fiorina's campaign trial. They were extremely rude and condescending to hotel service staff - the very people they said they were fighting for?!

November 03 2010 at 1:21 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to johnalton77's comment
Chuck

I just wonder how O'Donnell got as many votes as she did. That is scary to me.

November 05 2010 at 2:15 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
phillydrifter

Palin's not running in 2012, I don't think she could take the horrible slap in the face she would get from losing (BIG) but in reality, she wouldn't make it past the first few primaries. As far as I'm concerned, the only way these two get votes is from delusional guys who think they have a chance with her (either of them) or hardcore feminists who are voting purely because they're both female. I think if either of them got into office, they'd be quickly corrupted by their 'owning' staff. That is, they'd be repeated the same info over and over again until they take the bait and contend something someone else convinced them into doing.

November 03 2010 at 1:05 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply

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