After months of gloom and predictions of their political Armageddon in November, Democrats spent Wednesday celebrating the results of Tuesday’s Republican primary vote in Delaware. The upset victory of a tea party-backed candidate in that race not only gives Democrats new hope of holding onto Vice President Joe Biden’s former Senate seat, but for holding their overall majority.
Prior to her win, the Republican Party openly tried to destroy O’Donnell’s candidacy. Polls showed the popular Castle likely to capture the seat once held by Biden.
But, as Democrats happily spent Wednesday pointing out, O’Donnell’s conservative bent is considered by most to be out-of-step with the Democratic-leaning Delaware electorate.
O’Donnell was buoyed in recent days by help from the national tea party movement and by an endorsement from former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) sent an email to his list of supporters titled, “Delawow!”
“The news from Delaware is crystal clear: it’s Sarah Palin’s party now,” Kerry says. “Her chosen radical rightwing candidate Christine O’Donnell, a candidate so extreme her state’s GOP leader called her “delusional,” defeated the well-respected Congressman Mike Castle. Mike Allen, in his influential Playbook this morning, sums it up, ‘Sarah Palin, who endorsed O’Donnell, is STRONGER.'”
In a separate email titled, “Breaking news,” the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was even more plain: “The Delaware primary results are in, and it’s great news for Democrats. Sarah Palin’s Tea Party darling Christine O’Donnell has walked away with the GOP nomination. Race handicappers immediately upgraded our chances to win this race.”
Not only does the O’Donnell win upgrade the chances that Democratic nominee Chris Coons will win in November, Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza calls it “a major blow to Republicans’ hopes of winning back the Senate majority this fall.”
Republicans must win 10 Senate seats in November to win a majority, which Cillizza says will be more difficult if Delaware is out of reach.
Kerry calls Coons, New Castle County executive, “a fantastic candidate.”
“He knows we need policies that will put Americans back to work, to strengthen health care reform, not repeal it,” Kerry adds.
Even as Democrats cheered the brighter hopes that the tea party victory brings in Delaware, Kerry and the DSCC remain clear-eyed about the overall terrain Democrats face in November.
“This final round of primaries has left us in a stronger position for November, but we’d be making a terrible mistake to think we’re out of danger,” the DSCC says. “O’Donnell’s victory has energized the rabid right, and unlimited third-party money will follow. In no time at all, a slew of Tea Party groups will swoop in to support this radical candidate who when referring to health care reform said: ‘we must repeal this health bill horror’ and who blasted her primary opponent, Rep. Mike Castle, for supporting emergency state Medicaid funding.”
An earlier DSCC email signed by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) found 15 Senate seats to be within a five-point polling margin.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.