What the GOP Just Won in Delaware: a Likely Loss in November

The Delaware GOP now has, according to Nate Silver, a 17% chance of winning the Senate seat.

Nate Silver:

Delaware is a blue state, and the electoral prospects of Mr. Castle and Ms. O’Donnell there are wildly divergent. Whereas Mr. Castle is nearly a 95 percent favorite against the Democratic nominee, Chris Coons, according to last week’s FiveThirtyEight forecasting model, Ms. O’Donnell would have just a 17 percent chance of winning a  race against Mr. Coons.


To me the fascinating question is going to be:  what will the post-November ramifications be.  There is going to be some GOP drama whether Silver is wrong (which strikes me as unlikely) or right.

UPDATE (James Joyner):  This does some to be the consensus view.   WaPo’s Chris Cillizza:

The O’Donnell victory, which was considered a political impossibility as recently as a month ago, is a major boost for Democratic hopes of holding the seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden. New Castle County Executive Chris Coons was unchallenged for the Democratic Senate nomination.

“I’m sad to say the Delaware primary results tonight are straight out of Harry Reid’s dream journal,” said prominent Republican strategist Mike Murphy of the O’Donnell win.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Eugene Robinson (“Christine O’Donnell’s win is the GOP’s loss“) agrees.

Christine O’Donnell’s victory over Rep. Mike Castle in the Senate primary is a huge political story. How huge? This one race, in one of the nation’s smallest and least populous states, comes pretty close to wiping out the possibility of the Republicans taking control of the Senate in November.

That’s because any reasonable scenario giving the GOP a Senate majority involves capturing the Senate seat that used to belong to Vice President Biden. Castle, a veteran congressman, would have been favored to win – perhaps easily – in the general election. He is Delaware’s kind of Republican: fiscally conservative but moderate on social issues. He’s pro-choice and he favors gun control, in keeping with the attitudes and values of his state.

Enter O’Donnell, a Tea Party “outsider” who was smart enough to push all the right buttons. She is pro-life, she’s hostile to gun control, and she was able to position herself as the anti-establishment candidate. O’Donnell tapped into the mad-as-hell energy that’s swirling around out there. She got an endorsement from the Tea Party’s Evita – Sarah Palin. And despite the best efforts of state and national Republican leaders to stop her, O’Donnell won.

The problem is that Republicans can’t win in November on Tea Party anger alone. They also have to appeal to disaffected independents – and in a state like Delaware, those independents are likely to be turned off by O’Donnell’s extreme rhetoric, far-right views and paper-thin resume. The consensus among veteran GOP political operatives is that she is probably unelectable.

Now, in fairness, several of the insurgent candidates who were supposed to doom Republican chances of holding on to their seats — Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Sharon Angle — are either leading or neck-and-neck in the polls.   But there’s not much doubt that the Tea Party candidates have less appeal to independents.

One respected Republican operative has the opposing view:

“This shows that conservative energy at the grassroots is at tidal wave levels,” said Vin Weber, a former Minnesota congressman and GOP lobbyist. “It may well cost us the Delaware Senate seat, but the same phenomenon will help Republicans, particularly in House races in November.”

We shall see soon enough.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Pete says:

    I hope you are just as wrong as you were on Scott Brown. Steven, there is PASSION involved which usually renders your passionless analysis useless.

  2. Herb says:

    what will the post-November ramifications be

    My prediction:  The end of the Tea Party.
    It’s clear, almost two years in, that the “Tea Party” is little more than a gentle euphemism for “Republican amateur.”

  3. Herb says:

    there is PASSION involved which usually renders your passionless analysis useless.

    Can you tell me what you’re passionate about, Pete?

  4. Jeff says:

    The tea party will cause the GOP to lose the Senate. AK, DE, NH, and NV would all have been easy GOP victories but now are either losses or significantly tighter races.  The GOP now need wins in WI, CA, and WA to offset these easy victories as well as keeping control of FL in order to win the Senate.  I would not be surprised if either Rep Castle or Sen Murkowski run as an independents and try to win in the General Election just like Sen Lieberman did in CT. I think both (especially Rep Castle) would have a strong shot.

  5. ponce says:

    Purity uber alles.

  6. Juneau: says:

    @ Herb
    My prediction:  The end of the Tea Party.

    Confirmation.  You haven’t got a clue…

  7. Juneau: says:

    @ Herb
    It’s clear, almost two years in, that the “Tea Party” is little more than a gentle euphemism for “Republican amateur.”

    Better a principled amateur than a cowardly career politician.  Besides, it is apparent that the professional politicians are pretty incompetent, by and large.  Too much back-room accommodation,   far too little common sense.

  8. Gerry W. says:

    I wonder if O’Donnell will have cameras in our bedrooms. She doesn’t want anyone to masterbate. I don’t know if she wants religious rule like in the Middle East or Soviet Style spying. What is a crying shame is China will overwhelm the world in a couple of decades and our country is floundering with a bunch of nuts. And we just watch our country go downhill and can’t do anything about it.

  9. Jay Dubbs says:

    If these Tea Party candidiates were to win in Nov. in KY, CO, AK, DE, NV (& maybe NH – although that seems less clear right now) wouldn’t one of the big losers be Mitch McConell?  How does he have any control over these guys, when he actively opposed them?  Plus what about the few remaining moderate in the GOP? (Essential the ME Sens.) 

    Wow, 6 years of tea partiers with a whole bunch of power.  Boggles the mind. 

  10. Herb says:

    Juneau, Trust me on this one, buddy. By 2012, there will be no Tea Party Republicans on the ballot. There will just be Republicans. Those who are marketing themselves as Tea Party now won’t in two years.

    Let me explain: The Tea Parties have not distinguished themselves as anything other than an alternative to other, less desirable Republicans. Some of these Tea Party candidates will win in 2010…and they’ll all be Republicans. They’ll talk like Republicans and even act like Republicans. They might talk the Tea Party talk, but they’ll be…Republicans.

  11. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Herb would you like to bet?  I was at the Sacramento Tea party and I would say the Bee (Sacramento) vastly underestimated how many people were there.  You idiots just do not recognize what is happening in this country.  Come November, you may get a clue, but I doubt it as the place where you keep your head is not conducive to learning anything and it stinkis.

  12. ponce says:

    Remember all of Newt’s brave new 1994  Republicans who promised to term limit themselves but stayed in office?

  13. Dave Schuler says:

    It seems to me that in Delaware there are two possible outcomes.  Either Ms. O’Donnell, buoyed by the enthusiastic support of an ardent insurgency, will stage an upset victory or, handicapped by a narrower base of support will ensure that Delaware’s junior senator seat stays Democratic.
    Here’s my question.  If the latter is the case, will her supporters blame the voters?  IMO the difference between a viable political movement and a spasm of discontent is the recognition that you’ve got to win elections to accomplish anything.

  14. Peacewood says:

    @Dave Schuler
    In the latter scenario you describe, I imagine O’Donnell would blame the media (even Fox would be “culpable”, since they visibly do not support her), lies by her opponent, etc.
    At least, that appears to be the Tea Party M.O. at this point.

  15. Pete says:

    For all the people here who disparage the Tea Party, what is the alternative? Do you want to retain the staus quo? Do you disparage the Tea Party because you honestly fear their influence? Or are you content with the current political environment? Winning elections is one thing, but changing the political culture is far more difficult. I contend it can’t be done in a few election cycles, but through revolutionary changes over a longer period of time. Sure the Tea Party candidates will be Republicans. Will they retain their independence from the old GOP? I hope so. And will enough of them get elected to change the GOP? I hope so.
    For those of you who whine about and denigrate the Tea Party, ask yourselves if the staus quo is satisfactory. I would bet you all actually like the income tax system too and reject any ideas to reform it. I think you are stuck looking at the trees and not seeing the forest.

  16. Rick DeMent says:

    For all the people here who disparage the Tea Party, what is the alternative?

    A group that has actual policy ideas rather then being against an overly broad and ill defined grab bag of current policy.

    Or are you content with the current political environment?

    No, if you think the Senate is dysfunctional now wait until a super majority is imposable to cobble together given more balance. If the GOP wins a majority they will never get 60 votes to pass anything.

    Winning elections is one thing, but changing the political culture is far more difficult.

    The only way to change our political culture is to change the way campaigns are funded, until that happens anyone who wants to be elected will have to two the line of those who fund campaigns, republican, tea party and Estab. GOP alike.

    Will they retain their independence from the old GOP?

    Better question is will they be able to say no to wads of campaign cash. Some might but they will be defeated by those who say yes.

  17. Brett says:

    My favorite quote of the night:
    “Now we know what Democrats in South Carolina felt like when they got Alvin Greene.”

  18. King Fools says:

    Test comment 3.  Please ignore.
    bold italic underline


  19. Herb says:

    “Herb would you like to bet?”

    Yes, Zels. I will put money on my prediction that by 2012, the Tea Party will be a memory.

    But if they are still around, “You idiots just do not recognize what is happening in this country,” would be a great slogan. Start making the T-shirts now.

  20. Steve Plunk says:

    I like the way the Tea Party opponents warmed up their crystal balls and started making predictions.  I have no idea what’s going to happen as far as the elections but I do foresee a long life for the Tea Party.  Fiscal sanity is a singularly powerful enough policy to retain support in this time of fiscal insanity.  The other stuff will gel over time.

  21. Steve,

    I’m fairly confident in saying that while it is possible that Christine O’Donnell could win the General Election in Delaware, it is not at all likely.

  22. Dave,

    If O’Donnell loses, her supporters will blame the amorphous GOP “establishment” for not supporting her.

  23. Gerry W. says:

    Like usually, there is little said about jobs and middle class issues. Funny, how sections of the country just keep getting ignored.

  24. wr says:

    Plunk – If what you call “fiscal sanity” — that is, tax cuts for billionaires and wiping out what little remains of the societal safety net — continues to be accompanied by an insistence that the world was created in six days a few thousand years ago and that we should be putting our energy into stopping the scourge of masturbation, I don’t think it’s ever going to get traction with any but the tiny fraction of aging white angry conservatives who are the core of the Tea Party. And when one TPer gets office and actually tries to do what you all claim you want — destroy Social Security and Medicare, which most of your followers currently are on — the movement will be gone forever.

  25. john personna says:

    “fiscal sanity”
    Did I sleep through the proposed budget cuts?  What are they?

  26. Juneau: says:

    @ Herb
    They might talk the Tea Party talk, but they’ll be…Republicans.

    Well, they’re sure as hell not going to be liberals!   Herb, paraphrased:  you know two years from now I’ll just be a man.  I may talk like a renaissance man, or a progressive man, but I’ll still be … a man.

    Profound.  Absolutely profound.

  27. Wayne says:

    I would prefer to have three Conservative GOP Senators than to have four liberal GOP Senators.
    How many times have O’Donnell been counted out already?
    Shouldn’t the Republican who were against her in the primary now turn around a say “yes she wasn’t my candidate but she is much better than the Democrat’s candidate”.  Oh I forgot when a liberal Republican wins the primary; we must all get behind a back “our” candidate. However when a Conservative Republican wins, it is time to tear them down and hope they lose for spite.  




  28. wr says:

    Wayne — Perhaps some of the saner Republicans in Delaware would rather be represented by a Democrat who might actually care about governing than a creationist nutball who is obsessed with the sin of masturbation.