With the money, the polling and the endorsements breaking her way, it is no surprise that Christine O’Donnell was able to beat Rep. Mike Castle in the Delaware U.S. Senate primary, but polling and modeling shows that Sarah Palin and the Tea Party have taken a likely November victory away from the GOP and quite possibly handed control of the Senate to the Democrats.
Before everyone starts jumping off the cliff over Christine O’Donnell’s victory, here are a few things to keep in mind. First, Christine O’Donnell is not popular in Delaware. According to recent Rasmussen survey, O’Donnell has an approval rating problem. More votes disapprove of O’Donnell (44%) than approve of her (39%). In contrast, the man she defeated Mike Castle has a 67% approval rating. O’Donnell’s November opponent Chris Coons has a 49% approval rating. In short, the people of Delaware are very familiar with Christine O’Donnell and they don’t like her.
Secondly, Mike Castle was a lock to win this seat. Castle is a moderate Republican in a solidly Blue State. He is a well known and liked figure in the state, but he is not well liked by the Tea Party element of the GOP. Mike Castle did not pass the Tea Party purity test, and this is why he lost. According to the model done by Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight, Castle had a 95% chance of winning in November, but the odds of the GOP winning the seat with Christine O’Donnell as the nominee have sunk to 16%. By nominating O’Donnell the Tea Party sliced the GOP’s odds of winning the Senate almost in half from 30% to 16%.
Thirdly, the polls on the O’Donnell/Coons matchup all favor Coons. The Rasmussen Poll has Coons up by 11 points, 47%-36%. The PPP poll has Coons up 44%-37%, and most recent Rasmussen Pulse poll had Coons up by 10 point, 46%-36%. The Delaware result can’t and shouldn’t be compared to the Alaska Senate GOP primary result. Joe Miller was a true unknown who was running in a Red State against an incumbent. Christine O’Donnell is a known and disliked quantity in the Blue State of Delaware. To give you an idea of what O’Donnell is up against Obama still has a 50% approval rating in the state. Tonight’s Delaware exit polls revealed that O’Donnell has a 29% approval rating. Only 31% of voters think O’Donnell is qualified to hold office, and 44% of Castle’s voters will be backing the Democrat Coons.
The most overlooked and fascinating dynamic of the 2010 primary season is the Republican Party’s titanic internal battle for its future direction and soul. Few people have mentioned that fact that it looks like the Tea Party is winning in their guerrilla campaign to overthrow the Republican establishment. What is interesting is that none of these Tea Party candidates have had to face a general electorate. It is not difficult to pull off primary victories in small states, but it will be a much bigger challenge to not only win a general election contest in 2010, but to survive a presidential election contest in 2012.
A bad economy and the traditional presidential midterm struggles have made this a great climate for Republicans, but as tonight’s result in Delaware illustrated the GOP has demonstrated a true gift for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In the name of the ideological purity the Republican Party has managed to hand the control of the United States Senate to the Democratic Party. With O’Donnell’s victory all of those dreams of endless investigations of Barack Obama, and the repeal of Obamacare are likely dead and gone. Instead, what is likely to result is an even more dysfunctional government where an angry radical Republican controlled House rants and raves but is unable to accomplish anything.
Once again, Sarah Palin has put on full display her ability to cut off her own party at the knees for her own selfish motives. Republicans will likely enjoy a brief moment of House control before the reelection campaign of Obama gives the House back to the Democrats, and Republicans will be left wondering what might have been if Sarah Palin and the Tea Party would not have butted in and Mike Castle could have won a quiet midterm Delaware primary in 2010.