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O'Donnell Wins, Bad Blood Simmers in Delaware

O'Donnell Wins, Bad Blood Simmers in Delaware

By Erin McPike and Scott Conroy - September 15, 2010


DOVER and WILMINGTON, Del. -- Conservative activist Christine O'Donnell scored an upset victory in Delaware's Republican Senate primary on Tuesday, defeating longtime congressman Mike Castle 53 percent to 47 percent.

O'Donnell's surprising win marked yet another triumph for the Tea Party movement and may have ended the Republican Party's hopes of regaining control of the Senate in November. Polls have shown O'Donnell trailing far behind Democratic nominee Chris Coons, the New Castle county executive.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the people of Delaware have spoken: No more politics as usual," O'Donnell told an ecstatic crowd of campaign volunteers at her election night celebration in Dover. "Don't ever underestimate the power of ‘We The People.'"

In her victory speech, a beaming O'Donnell called for Republican Party unity, but she did not mention Castle by name.

Asked by RealClearPolitics while leaving the stage on Tuesday night whether Castle had called her to concede, O'Donnell said, "No, not yet."

In Castle's speech to his supporters in Wilmington, the longtime congressman showed a similar lack of traditional campaign courtesy by choosing not to congratulate O'Donnell by name.

Still, Castle said that he supported the voters' decision. But he did speak with Coons, who said he thanked Castle for his many years of service to the state.

"I would like to thank the Republican Party for its support," Castle said in his concession speech. "I'm not going any place. I will be in the neighborhood."

The Delaware Republican Party had worked hard to portray O'Connell as mentally unstable and unsuitable to be a U.S. senator, and the national GOP likewise worked behind the scenes to undermine her insurgent campaign. And after Tuesday's results, it was clear that she would continue to struggle to receive support from the party establishment in Delaware.                                                

In Wilmington, Republican strategist Don Mell and his wife, Jeanne, who is a Democrat, walked across the street from Castle's party to Coons' primary watch party at a nearby pub. The couple donned Castle pins when they arrived at the Coons event and picked up one of the Democrat's yard signs.

"I'm not voting for that woman-she's crazy," Don Mell said. "There isn't going to be any discussion about that."

He said that he will vote for Coons and estimated that about 60 percent of the Republicans in New Castle County will do the same. Mrs. Mell said that although she's a Democrat, she would have voted for Castle had he won the primary.

The Mells said that a number of people trekked back and forth between the two election night events as they did.

"If we can't cross the street to each other's side, we're never going to get anything done," he said, referring both to the events Tuesday night and bipartisanship more broadly. 

Tom Wagner, the Republican state auditor and a good friend of Castle's, was teary in an interview with RealClearPolitics.

"I'm close with the congressman," Wagner said. "This is a very emotional night for me; it's almost like losing myself."

As for whether he will support O'Donnell, Wagner was noncommittal.

"Her and I agree on a lot of issues," he said, adding that he was upset that she hadn't been "properly vetted" by some of those who endorsed her.

"I understand the frustration. The root of all of his problems was [Castle's] cap and tax vote," Wagner said. "He's the most popular politician in the state of Delaware, yet he lost the Republican primary. To me, that says it all."

Back at O'Donnell's party in Dover, the mood was triumphant, rather than conciliatory.

O'Donnell supporters wearing light blue t-shirts that read, "Team Christine" gloated over their victory by posing in front of a Castle yard sign in front of the stage, on which someone had scribbled "GOOD BYE!" in bright red letters under the congressman's name.

"We could care less about the Republican Party," said O'Donnell volunteer Brad Flora of Camden, Delaware. "We want our government back.

Bob Schleifer, another O'Donnell volunteer, said that rank and file Republicans in the state had spoken clearly. "Now it's up to the establishment to make the decision," Schleifer said.

In her victory speech, O'Donnell channeled former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, whose late backing helped propel her to victory and marked yet another notch in the former GOP VP nominee's endorsement belt. 

"You betcha!" O'Donnell said in response to someone shouting the Palin catchphrase from the crowd. "There's another woman I've got to thank. Thank you Governor Palin for your endorsement...she was a vote against the politics of personal destruction." 

O'Donnell told RealClearPolitics on Monday that she would "absolutely" welcome Palin to Delaware to campaign for her in the general election.

"It will be hard work, but we can win," O'Donnell told her supporters after her win on Tuesday. "And if those same people who worked against me work for me, we will win!"

But the question remains: How many of her former opponents will work for her now? 

Erin McPike and Scott Conroy are national political reporters for RealClearPolitics. Erin can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Scott can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com

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