With five days to go before Delaware's primary, former Alaska half-term Gov. Sarah Palin named a new "Mama Grizzly," tapping underdog Tea Party favorite Christine O'Donnell for the Senate race. So what does it mean? Could this be a sign of another Republican primary upset, the kind that would send both Tea Party activists and Democrats into paroxysms of pleasure?
The funny thing is that this wasn't supposed to be a race (and it may in fact not be a race). Centrist Republican Rep. Mike Castle, a fixture of Delaware politics seemingly forever, remains the favorite to win his party's nod. The lunatic right has never been happy about the notion of a Castle nomination. (Remember that the media first noticed the birther movement when a video surfaced of a Castle town hall where a wingnut held up a baggie with her birth certificate and excoriated the bewildered lawmaker that Obama "is not an American citizen," and that "I want my country back!")
But the Tea Party right didn't like Rep. Mark Kirk or former Sen. Dan Coats, now the GOP's Illinois and Indiana nominees, respectively. And Delaware is a classic centrist, Democrat-leaning state, not exactly fertile Tea Party ground. Castle's nomination seemed a foregone conclusion.
But starting with Rand Paul, the Tea Party has piled up a growing list of insurgent Senate primary victories. The Tea Party Express in particular powered Nevada nutter Sharron Angle and most recently Alaskan Joe Miller to out-of-nowhere primary victories. The Express has pledged to spend $250,000 on O'Donnell's behalf in Delaware.
And we know something has Castle's attention. He suddenly started running negative ads against O'Donnell this week. The question is whether he is simply being overcautious in the wake of Miller's Lisa Murkowski takedown or whether his pollsters are sending up internal flares. With a total absence of public polls in the GOP primary, it's a bit like astrophysics--you can see some force is being exerted, but it's not clear exactly what its source is.
Palin provides another data point. She called in to Sean Hannity's radio show Thursday and endorsed O'Donnell. She followed up via her preferred method of, ahem, long form communication (well compared to Twitter anyway), Facebook. "The wave of positive change can really sweep across our land with the election of Constitutional Conservatives who promise to use common sense and rein in the federal government spending!" she wrote in a masterful example of vacuous Palin-tudes (for more on "Constitutional Conservatives," see my column from this week). "Please support Christine O’Donnell in Delaware."
So why is Palin suddenly weighing in? It's possible she has inside intel that the race is suddenly close and that she can help push O'Donnell across the finish line. But this is Sarah Palin, so she might have called in to Hannity on a whim.
The stakes are best illustrated by a Rasmussen poll conducted last week. Castle leads Democratic nominee Chris Coons by 11 points; Coons in turn leads O'Donnell by 11 points. Put more simply if the GOP nominates Castle they'll probably grab Joe BIden's old seat. If they nominate the Palin/Tea Party favorite, however, they will almost certainly be electing Coons. And while it's still a long shot, one seat could make the difference between the Democrats holding control of the chamber and the GOP sweeping in.
So I guess Palin's right: Go Christine O'Donnell!