Christine O’Donnell’s Win Stuns Delaware Republicans But Thrills Democrats

September 15, 2010 - 5:09 AM

Christine O'Donnell

Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell addresses supporters after winning the Republican nomination for Senate on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010, in Dover, Del. O'Donnell upset Rep. Mike Castle. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

Wilmington, De. (AP) - The state Republican Party's fierce attacks on tea party-backed Christine O'Donnell offer Democrats plenty of ammunition in the U.S. Senate race after her shocking upset of a nine-term congressman and former governor.

Democrats watched for weeks as U.S. Rep. Mike Castle and O'Donnell pummeled each other in an ugly contest that didn't let up even in the final hours Tuesday when her own party launched automated phone calls attacking her.

A woman who said she was Kristin Murray, O'Donnell's campaign manager in her 2008 unsuccessful Senate campaign, accusing the candidate of "living on campaign donations -- using them for rent and personal expenses, while leaving her workers unpaid and piling up thousands in debt." That followed earlier GOP claims that O'Donnell has lied about her education and has left a trail of unpaid bills that included tax liens and a default on her mortgage.

Democrats and their candidate Chris Coons can simply reach into the GOP's quiver for arrows to fire at O'Donnell as they try to hold onto the seat held for more than three decades by Joe Biden before he gave it up in early 2009 after being elected vice president. His successor, Democratic Sen. Ted Kaufman, pledged not to run for a full term.

The results had barely been counted before the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee began cataloging the nasty comments fellow Republicans have said about O'Donnell.

"Even the Delaware Republican Party chairman has said O'Donnell is 'not a viable candidate for any office in the state of Delaware,' and 'could not be elected dogcatcher,'" DSCC chairman Sen. Robert Menendez said in a statement.

The GOP criticism and a huge Democratic advantage in state voter registration numbers make O'Donnell's prospects of defeating county executive Coons in November even more daunting.

"Every leading Delaware Republican knows that Christine O'Donnell is way out of the mainstream," said Coons, who was unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

Before Tuesday, Castle, a former two-term governor who is the longest serving U.S. House member in state history, had never lost an election. O'Donnell's side went on the attack, portraying him as a Republican in name only who was too liberal and often voted with Democrats in Congress.

O'Donnell came in as a two-time loser, in 2008 to Biden for Senate, and earlier in a three-way GOP primary for that seat.

And though her boost by Tea Party Express spending on television and radio ads won her the primary, Republican support statewide and nationally is doubtful.

Castle did not mention her name in his concession speech and said earlier that supporting O'Donnell if she won would be difficult.

"One of the basic arguments here is that she is just not going to win the general election," Castle said. "I totally believe that ... I see no way she could win this general election, or maybe any general election."

Making matters worse, national Republican Party officials said as the votes were being counted that the party would not come to her aid if she won, citing a string of disclosures about her personal finances and other matters, including her attacks on Castle.

Still, O'Donnell was riding a winning high during her acceptance speech.

"Some people have already said we can't win the general election," O'Donnell said in a speech to supporters, who responded with chants of, "Yes, we can!" that turned to, "Yes, we will!"

"If those people who fought so hard against me work just as hard for me, then we can win," O'Donnell added in an apparent reference to Republicans who opposed her.

O'Donnell also faces a numbers battle. She garnered less than 30,000 votes in a contest in which only Republicans could cast ballots. About 293,000 Democrats are registered in Delaware, compared with about 183,000 Republicans.

Her supporters remained undaunted.

"If she can beat Castle, she can beat Coons," said Judy Mangini, 50, a real estate agent from Lewes who worked on O'Donnell's campaign.

GOP support for O'Donnell is doubtful not only because of questions about her appeal to the general electorate and her finances, but because of the harsh words leveled at Castle during the primary.

Besides casting him as a liberal, O'Donnell, 41, and her supporters suggested that the 71-year-old Castle is so frail that he might die before finishing his Senate term, that he might switch parties and become a Democrat, and that he was cheating on his wife with a man.

"This has not been at all pleasant, this particular campaign," Castle said.