Tea Party Insurgent Aims to Oust Well Funded Foe in Delaware Primary

Underfunded insurgent Christine O'Donnell gets help in quest to upset veteran Rep. Mike Castle.

By + More

Predictions are flying about the likelihood of the House and Senate changing hands in November's midterm elections. But before parties can plan their agendas for the next congressional session, their candidates first have to make it through their primaries. After Tuesday, the last big day of the 2010 primary season, nearly all of the nominees for the general election will be chosen. Altogether, voters in seven states plus the District of Columbia will on Tuesday finalize their November ballots for 61 House seats, six Senate seats, and six gubernatorial races. Only the Hawaii primary and a House runoff primary in Louisiana will remain after this.

DELAWARE

The Republican Senate primary in Delaware is perhaps Tuesday's most-anticipated contest. In what is becoming a common trend this election season, Rep. Mike Castle, a 17-year House veteran, will face a challenge from the right in Tea Party-backed political commentator Christine O'Donnell. The Tea Party's surprise victory in Alaska, where Joe Miller upset Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the August Republican Senate primary, spurred the movement to focus on O'Donnell's bid, which was until very recently viewed as a longshot. Supporters of the fledgling conservative movement are hoping that, with O'Donnell, they can yet again defeat an establishment Republican.

Castle has taken in over $3.5 million this cycle, with $2.6 million in the bank as of August 25. O'Donnell, meanwhile, has taken in less than one tenth of that amount, $280,000, and has spent almost all of it in trying to defeat Castle. As of August 25, she had only $20,374 in her campaign account. But O'Donnell has had significant outside help, particularly from the Our Country Deserves Better Political Action Committee, which is affiliated with the Tea Party Express. Thus far, the Tea Party Express has spent nearly $216,000 on promoting O'Donnell in this race, and has said it would spend about $250,000 total on the candidate by Tuesday's primary.

O'Donnell has also been endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, and prominent conservative groups like the Susan B. Anthony List, which promotes prolife women candidates, and the Gun Owners of America, which promotes Second Amendment rights. Castle, meanwhile, has received a flurry of support from other established Republicans in the run-up to the primary. In recent weeks he has received $2,000 from Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe's campaign committee, as well as $5,000 each from leadership PACs affiliated with Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and South Dakota Sen. John Thune.

Castle and O'Donnell are currently in a virtual tie, according to a September 12 poll from Public Policy Polling. The survey of likely Republican voters showed O'Donnell leading Castle, 47 to 44 percent, but because the margin of error is 3.8 percent the race is a statistical dead heat. The Republican primary could have major consequences for who wins the seat in the November general election. A poll released on September 7 by Rasmussen Reports shows that Castle currently has a better chance than O'Donnell at defeating Democratic candidate Christopher Coons, an attorney and County Executive for Delaware's New Castle County. Among likely voters, Castle leads Coons by 11 points, 48 to 37 percent, whereas Coons leads O'Donnell by ll points, 47 to 36 percent. The financial situation is similar: Coons' $1.6 million in receipts and $944,231 in his warchest are much smaller than Castle's figures but are substantially larger than O'Donnell's totals.

The Senate seat up for election is currently held by Democrat Ted Kaufman, who was appointed to finish the Senate term of Joe Biden, who resigned to become vice president. Kaufman is not seeking re-election.

With Castle vacating his at-large House seat, that race is also open this year. Democrat John Carney, Delaware's Lieutenant Governor from 2001 to 2009, is unopposed for his party's nomination. With many political analysts favoring the Democrats to pick up the seat in November, the Republican candidate will likely face an uphill battle. Michele Rollins, a businesswoman and philanthropist, and Glen Urquhart, the president of his own real estate and investment company, are both vying for the GOP nomination. Rollins has over $800,000 in receipts, with $369,014 in the bank as of August 25. Urquhart's fundraising has largely kept pace with Rollins', as he has taken in over $700,000 during this election cycle. However, $565,000 of that money has come out of his own pocket, and he has spent far more, with only $194,000 left in his coffers as of August 25. Rollins has garnered the endorsement of the Republican Party of Delaware, but Urquhart has been questioning her GOP bona fides. One Urquhart advertisement criticizes Rollins for contributions that she and her family made to Democrat Joe Biden's campaigns during his years in the Senate.