Delaware And The Battle Between The Beltway GOP And The Tea Party

Christine O'Donnell has become the latest star of the Tea Party movement, and her primary battle with Mike Castle the latest battleground over the future of the Republican Party.

The Senate GOP primary in Delaware between Mike Castle, who has held statewide office in the state since 1981, and Christine O’Donnell, a three-time unsuccessful candidate for Senate who has become the darling of the Tea Party movement, is shaping up to be the most bitter battle yet between “establishment” Republicans and the Tea Party movement:

Is Mike Castle the next Lisa Murkowski?

Nearly two weeks removed from Murkowski’s stunning defeat by little-known attorney Joe Miller in the Republican Senate primary in Alaska, establishment GOPers are nervous of a repeat in Delaware, where Castle faces 2008 Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell in the Sept. 14 primary.

Castle’s resume in elected office in Delaware extends more than 40 years and includes an eight-year stint as governor. So, until recently, it was assumed that he would easily win the primary and the general election to replace appointed Sen. Ted Kaufman, a Democrat.

And political pros still largely dismiss O’Donnell, a marketing consultant who won 35 percent of the vote when she ran against then-Sen. Joe Biden in 2008, as a gadfly. Internal GOP polling conducted last week showed Castle with a margin of nearly 20 points over O’Donnell.

But after Murkowski’s loss, there is a desire among Republican operatives to be safe rather than sorry .

In recent weeks, O’Donnell has begun to attract national attention as the next GOP outsider who could upset the party’s establishment candidate with help from the “tea party ” movement.

Miller’s schocking win affirmed the danger to any GOP candidate positioned as a moderate in a small-turnout primary. (Fewer than 110,000 votes sealed Murkowski’s fate; Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah lost renomination this year at the hands of 3,500 – or so – Republicans at the state convention.)

A senior Republican operative granted anonymity to speak candidly about the race said Murkowski’s defeat was the best thing that could have happened to Castle. “After Alaska, Castle knew he would be next if he didn’t run a real campaign – including defining O’Donnell,” the source said.

Castle, like Murkowski, was counseled by the national party to go on the attack immediately against O’Donnell, taking advantage of the $2.6 million he had in the bank at the end of July (O’Donnell had $70,000). Unlike Murkowski, Castle listened. He launched radio ads that describe O’Donnell as a “financial disaster.” Tough TV spots are on the way, according to knowledgeable insiders.

On the Tea Party side, though, the battle is seen quite differently, as Melissa Clouthier points out over at Liberty Pundits:

Here are the arguments:

Mike Castle can give us the majority. To which I say, maybe. That depends on a lot of stars aligning perfectly.

Mike Castle is very popular. Great. He’ll have no problem winning then.

Mike Castle can win. To which I say, and then what? We have another RINO reliably voting for the Democrat agenda–more reliably than the Maine sisters. I didn’t support John McCain who is actually somewhat fiscally responsible. Why should I support Castle?

Mike Castle is better. Oh really? Better than what?

Well, for one, better than the Democrat who is likely to win the seat if O’Donnell is nominated. As I said last week, I understand the desire for purism, but when you’re at the point where the rubber meets the road in politics, you’ve got to recognize some rather self-evident truths.

For one, America is a center-right country, with most of the emphasis on the center rather than the right. For every Jim DeMint elected in in South Carolina, there’s an Olympia Snowe in Maine and if you want the GOP to be a majority party, then you have to accept that. Republicans used to be able to handle that. For example, the Republican Senate that Ronald Reagan had from 1981-1987 included members like Jesse Helms from North Carolina and Charles Percy from Illinois. And they held the Senate for six years in an era when Democratic control of Congress was still seen as a given.

For another, radical political change, whether from the left or the right, is a rarity in American politics. Outside of the elections of 1800, 1860, and 1932, I don’t think you can say that any single election has resulted in true radical change in the United States. More often than not, what you see is change at the margins, and efforts at true radical change usually end up turning off the voters; something Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress should be quite familiar with on November 3rd. I’m not sure we’ll ever see the day when the United States is a “conservative” nation in the way that the true-believers would want, and I’m even less certain that my own libertarian ideas will find mass support anytime in my lifetime.

So, that leaves political activists with two choices. Either try to effect the change you can within the system we have, or sit on the sidelines and point out why everyone else is wrong.

The Tea Party strikes me as a movement dedicated at least on some level to the idea of effecting change rather than just complaining, Because of that, I am not at all certain why they’ve decided to hitch their star to Christine O’Donnell. It’s fairly clear from examining her own record that she’s the archetype of the perennial gadfly candidate, and the fact that at least one of the groups that endorsed her didn’t even bother to do any vetting is a pretty strong indication that all they did was notice that she had started parrotting their slogans.

In either case, it doesn’t seem to me that Christine O’Donnell is a hill worth dying on for the Tea Party movement. They’ve had some fairly good success in Kentucky, Colorado, and Alaska with candidates who each have a very good shot at winning in November, there’s not really any point in giving credibility to someone who doesn’t seem to have very much to begin with.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, Tea Party, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Anon says:

    More often than not, what you see is change at the margins, and efforts at true radical change usually end up turning off the voters; something Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress should be quite familiar with on November 3rd.

    In my mind, health care is the biggest economic issue out there, at least in the mid-to-long-term. Health care costs cannot keep going up relative to GDP. I myself would tend to lean towards libertarianish solutions, but I know that they are complete political non-starters.
    Unfortunately, I don’t see how change at the margin is going to result in anything but a slight delay of the slow-motion train wreck that we seem to be heading towards, but I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise.

  2. Trumwill says:

    There are states where you can demand ideological purity if you are the GOP. There are states where I completely understand the desire to “roll the dice” with a more aggressive candidate. I understood the push to unseat John McCain in this context and Bennett in Utah. I understand Rand Paul in this regard. I even understand Marco Rubio despite the fact that it’s a swing rather than Republican state.
    Delaware, though, is not one of those states.

  3. Ron says:

    Real change will come about, only when this track of unsustainable spending/taxation collapses the current government, as well as our economy. That is the only way things will change. Unfortunately, that means we will have to rebuild our government and the economic structure from the ground up.
    Otherwise, we are simply trading one sort of Politico, for another, where newly elected politicians almost immediately become infected with the adrenaline rush of power and spending. Call me pessimistic, but that is the reality I see amongst all political operatives, regardless of party affiliation (LP included).
    Alexis de Tocqueville had it right. The American Republic will survive until the day the Congress discovers it can bribe the people with the people’s money.

  4. Wayne says:

    Part of the problem is the Beltway GOP chose to pick a fight with the “Tea Party” and the conservative elements of the Party. They insist on “moderates” anytime and all the time. They write blogs bashing the conservative elements and members of their party.
    Remember if you pick a fight your opponent may just fight back.