Notes From Election Night

Notes From Election Night

By Maggie Gallagher - September 16, 2010

Another GOP political earthquake: Christine O'Donnell beat Mike Castle in Delaware's Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat, fair and square.

The results shocked everyone, especially the GOP establishment. "Dark horse" does not begin to describe how inconceivably unlikely O'Donnell's bid appeared to all of us, just a few months back. I myself spoke at a panel in Pennsylvania last spring, and Christine O'Donnell was just a face in the audience. She introduced herself and said she was running for the Senate against Castle. The idea she might beat him never crossed my mind.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee immediately announced that it now considers the race "unwinnable" and will not fund O'Donnell's campaign. Karl Rove called her "nutty." It is certainly true her primary victory makes winning this seat less likely, and she may well turn out to be a poor candidate.

This is a dangerous moment for the GOP, but not in the way the GOP establishment thinks.

Here's the truth: O'Donnell didn't really beat Castle in a fair fight. She beat him in an unfair fight where the odds were heavily stacked against her by a GOP establishment that demonstrated its fear of the voters by plowing money into electing an annointed candidate in a GOP primary for an open seat. From the politicos' point of view, it was a no-brainer.

But then the voters had their say.

O'Donnell's victory represents a powerful backlash by rank-and-file Republicans. The GOP elites signaled their distrust and dislike of the GOP base, and the base repaid them with a shellacking. The natives are restless out there, and they do not trust the GOP Washington establishment any more than they trust the Democratic establishment.

How the men who run the GOP respond to this insurrection, which has now toppled anointed GOP candidates in states from Florida to Alaska, will be key to the GOP's long-term future. The temptation for the professional pols will be to respond to the electorate's unreasonableness with evermore aggressive efforts to disown the base. In particular, it is clear that many professional pols and GOP elites do not like the social issues, while GOP voters are united around them.

Ask Bill Binnie, New Hampshire's $6 million man. A self-financing outsider candidate, he had surged to within single digits of the lead in the race for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate. But by election night, after voters found out he was pro-gay marriage and pro-abortion, he sank to a distant third in an epic battle between two pro-life, pro-marriage candidates, Kelly Ayotte and Ovide Lamontagne.

In New York state, the fearsome Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender machine, which promised a "bloodbath" against Dems who voted down gay marriage in the state Senate, is looking more like declawed cat than a terrible tiger. State Sen. Ruben Diaz, D-Bronx, was their marquee fundraising target, and he swept to re-nomination by a huge margin, as did another target, state Sen. Shirley Huntley, D-Queens. Pro-gay marriage forces will try to claim state Sen. Bill Stachowski, D-Buffalo, as a scalp, but his sweeping defeat by a 40-point margin in the primary makes it pretty clear that his vote against gay marriage in a conservative district was probably not the tipping point. It also makes a GOP pickup of the seat more likely. (Political action committee Fight Back New York's day-after boast that it was "two for two" because it somehow toppled convicted girlfriend abuser Hiram Monserrate is even more pathetic.)

(Full disclosure: The National Organization for Marriage, of which I am chairman, was involved in several of the above-mentioned races.)

The professional pols don't like temper tantrums by voters, which introduce an unpredictability into a poll-tested process they can't enjoy. But trust me, when a party's voters are mad, the professionals had better listen.

Copyright 2010, Maggie Gallagher

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