“We have a chance to win this race friends!”
Those recent words from the Tea Party Express in an email to supporters following Delaware’s Republican primary might strike fear in the hearts of Republicans, but they are giving Democrats a sliver of hope that this fall won’t be a complete wipeout.
On Sept. 14, Delaware Republicans will head to the polls to choose between Rep. Mike Castle and tea party darling Christine O’Donnell. The winner will face Democrat Chris Coons in November for the open seat, currently held by a Democrat. Castle has long been considered the frontrunner and clear November favorite, so much so that there’s almost no polling between O’Donnell and Coons. But Democrats say that they think she’s easy to beat — and Republicans in D.C. privately admit that her candidacy is deeply flawed and that they are rooting for Castle.But according to the Tea Party Express, they’ve been made aware of “some shockingly good news” about the race. The group released yesterday a Tea Party Express commissioned a poll of GOP voters that shows 43.7% Castle-38% O’Donnell, suggesting the result means Castle “is on the verge of seeing his political career come to an end.”
O’Donnell, who has met with Sarah Palin but hasn’t gotten the former governor’s endorsement (yet), hasn’t had the best week. Someone from a firm formerly affiliated with her campaign questioned Castle’s sexuality in a web video. O’Donnell has since distanced herself from the remark and called it “tacky.” A scuffle ensued between operatives for the two camps. Then the Huffington Post uncovered her talking smack about not just premarital sex, but masturbation. And she had a brutal radio interview with Dan Gaffney, who backed her candidacy four years ago but recently accused her of distorting facts. Castle refuses to debate her.
The national Republicans are getting more involved behind the scenes, with Castle telling supporters in an email the Republican National Committee has opened up victory centers to phone bank and canvass voters. Democrats say that even if Castle pulls out a victory, they are pleased the national party is having to spend money on what seemed until recently to be a safe primary for their preferred candidate.
“I am not taking a victory in my September 14th GOP Primary for granted,” Castle wrote.
Castle also announced $200,000 worth of new TV and radio ads the Tea Party Express wants to match dollar-for-dollar. They already are up on the air for O’Donnell.
As we laid out recently, O’Donnell has several things going for her. The establishment GOP candidates have been losing all over the place. She’s doing heavy targeting of evangelicals, particularly targeting Castle’s support of stem cell research. Turnout is expected to be around 50,000 Republicans, and it’s a closed primary so Castle won’t benefit from the independent and Democratic votes he’s nabbed over the course of his career for holding moderate positions.
And Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling (D) recently laid out the arguments for and against a possible O’Donnell win, writing last month that Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s poll numbers with Republicans in January were better than Castle’s have ever been. Jensen also finds the “ideological composition of the Delaware and Alaska Republican electorates is actually almost identical.”
National Democrats with increasing heartburn about the midterm elections have their fingers crossed that the last of the year’s primaries on Sept. 14 favor the tea party-fueled conservatives and boot more moderate (and more electable) Republicans from the ballot.
Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) is a Palin-backed “mama grizzly” who has held a solid lead in a crowded New Hampshire primary for months. National Republicans think she’s the best candidate of the bunch, but Democrats have collected some of her positions and will paint her as too extreme for the Granite State should she win that primary. And Dems think that if one of the lesser known GOPers win, it could be all the better for Democratic candidate Rep. Paul Hodes.
Democrats who have spent a lot of time highlighting the far-right positions of Sharron Angle, Rand Paul and, most recently, Joe Miller in Alaska aren’t out of the woods by any means, but Dems think they have a better chance this fall if their candidates are up against an Ã¼ber-conservative Republican.
It’s been a sort of “Hey Look At The Extreme Candidates!” kind of year for the Democrats, and some acknowledge privately that they think that’s their best strategy for maintaining Congressional control this November.
“The right and the far right of the Republican party are at war, and as a result Republicans are emerging from their primaries, not just bloodied and depleted, but deeply divided and with deeply flawed candidates,” said DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan.
Party officials for each side don’t expect Palin-backed Brian Murphy to prevail over former Gov. Bob Ehrlich in Maryland’s Sept. 14 Republican gubernatorial primary — but this year, you never know.
As for O’Donnell, it’s worth listening to her Gaffney interview below to understand why Republicans are worried.
Last night, the Tea Party Express went live with a new TV ad attacking Castle:
Additional reporting by Clayton Ashley