The Campaign Spot

Don’t Blink! I Call O’Donnell ‘Astounding’ in Here, and Not in a Bad Way.

Lord knows, I didn’t want to get sucked into the “you RINO sellout” food-fight that has become the Delaware Senate race again. I know many readers disagree with me, and many readers just don’t want to read another word on this. So if you already hate what I’ve written on this or are flat-out tired of hearing “Castle” and “O’Donnell,” you may prefer reading the Scott Rasmussen interview.

I see someone is characterizing the position of “a chorus at National Review” that one must “actively support” Castle over O’Donnell.

Hey, I never tell anybody who to vote for. In fact, I specifically wrote, “if Mike Castle strikes you as too close to a Dede Scozzafava–level intolerability, that’s fine. Every candidate has to earn your vote; no candidate is owed it.”

I am a little bothered to see two of the conservative leaders I admire most getting some facts wrong in their discussion of this race. If they want to oppose Mike Castle, that’s fine, but oppose him for the right reasons, not for votes he didn’t make.

Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh said, “He voted for the stimulus, and the people are saying, ‘Well, we need to get control of the Senate, Rush, and if it’s gonna take a guy like Mike Castle in Delaware to get control of the Senate, then we’re going to have to go for that, we’re going to have to do it.’”

I suppose Rush may have been referring to the 2008 stimulus and not the more well-known 2009 one, but the earlier one passed 81–16 and quite a few staunchly conservative senators voted for it, including Richard Burr of North Carolina (lifetime ACU rating of 91), John Thune of South Dakota (87.7), David Vitter of Louisiana (93.8), Jim Bunning of Kentucky (94.5), Mitch McConnell of Kentucky (89.6), Sam Brownback of Kansas (92.7), Pat Roberts of Kansas (86.8), Saxby Chambliss of Georgia (92.8), and Orrin Hatch of Utah (89.1). (And, of course, President Bush signed it into law.) If this vote is the defining litmus test of conservatism, more than half the Senate Republican caucus came out RINO.

Then, while discussing this race with Michelle Malkin last night, Sean Hannity said, “We have another case emerging next Tuesday, Delaware. Christine O’Donnell, the establishment is trying to assassinate her character, smear her. Mike Castle voted for Obamacare, TARP, cap and tax, the establishment wants him. What can we interpret from that?”

Except that Castle voted against Obamacare. You can argue that his don’t-bother-until-we-have-a-GOP-president stance on repeal is wrongheaded or squishy, but don’t attribute a vote to him that he didn’t make.

But let’s move on to the nuts and bolts of how this primary will be fought. Turnout for Republicans in primaries in Delaware tends to be pretty low. Turnout for the GOP primary was 16 percent of registered Republicans in 2008, 8 percent in 2006, 12 percent in 2004, 14 percent in 2002, 16 percent in 2000.

(Fun fact: Mike Castle has never faced a challenge in any of his runs for the House since 1994. I don’t mean he has never faced any challenger who came close in a primary election; I mean no Delaware Republican has ever filed the papers and appeared on the ballot against him in a primary. Not even token opposition finishing in the single digits in the polls. It’s almost as if his record of voting with conservatives slightly more than half the time accurately reflects the voting preferences of Delaware Republicans or something.)

Since 2000, the total number of votes in the top-of-the-ticket GOP races has ranged from about 13,000 to 28,000 votes. On paper, this is good news for O’Donnell; all she needs is one more vote than Castle, and 6,501 to 14,001 votes is not a high bar to clear. However, this is the most dramatic and high-profile primary race in Delaware in years, and both campaigns expect turnout to be 40,000, with some predicting 45,000. So she’ll probably need 20,000 or more votes to win.

O’Donnell’s history as a candidate offers a few reasons for optimism. In 2006, in her first bid for the U.S. Senate, she won 2,505 votes in the GOP primary against two other opponents. After the primary loss, she ran as a write-in candidate and won 11,127 votes, a pretty astounding total for that difficult method of running. The following year she won the Senate nomination at the state party convention with 60.7 percent of the vote, just over the 60 percent requirement. In the general election, her 132,942 votes were more than the GOP nominee for governor, but less than the GOP candidates for lieutenant governor and state insurance commissioner.

The state has only three counties. Judging from the 2008 general-election results, O’Donnell’s base of support is in the southernmost, least urban county, Sussex; it was here that she came within a few hundred votes of tying Joe Biden. Kent County, which includes the state capital of Dover, was her second-best. The northernmost county of New Castle, which includes Newark and Wilmington, is the most heavily Democratic and most heavily populated; 62 percent of all of the state’s ballots cast in 2008 came from here. O’Donnell lost this county by more than 100,000 votes while Castle won by about 36,000 against a second-tier Democrat challenger.

One of the reasons O’Donnell is considered to have a chance at the upset is the Tea Party Express’s announcement that they would spend $250,000 to help her win the primary. But now there’s word that the group may not end up spending quite so much:

The Tea Party Express’ previous ad buy was for $17K and it claimed on Tuesday to have spent $60K on the race so far. The Tea Party is planning a radio-thon for O’Donnell on Thursday, which should cost about $6K, and 2 direct mail pieces, which should cost about $20K each, according to knowledgeable DE sources. So, with the biggest estimate, that brings Tea Party Express spending to just less than $138K.

The state has two media markets; New Castle County is part of the phenomenally expensive Philadelphia market, while Sussex is reached by the much less expensive Salisbury, Maryland. Between the two markets, Castle is estimated to have bought $328,000 worth of air time.

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