The stakes are high in the Delaware Senate race to serve out Joe Biden’s term; the victor will be eligible to serve upon election and thus will participate in the lame duck session. The choice for Republican voters, between Rep. Mike Castle and insurgent candidate Christie O’Donnell, presents a conundrum for conservatives.
Castle is an immensely popular figure in Delaware. In 2008, when Barack Obama carried the state by a margin of 62-37, Castle defeated his Democratic opponent by a margin of 61-38, in a state-wide race (Delaware has just one seat in the House). Meanwhile, O’Donnell was losing to Joe Biden by a margin of 65-35.
Castle’s popularity in Delaware probably rivals that of Joe Biden. This may explain why the vice president’s son Beau decided not to run for the Senate this year.
Instead of Beau Biden, the Dems are running Chris Coons. He’s the elected executive of New Castle County, home to two-thirds of Delaware’s population. Castle leads Coons in the polls by 11 points (47-36) according to a Rasmussen poll from a few weeks ago.
The problem for conservatives is that Castle isn’t one. Rather, as David Broder fondly describes him, Castle “is a throwback to the kind of progressive Republican the Northeast used to elect regularly.” Castle told Broder that, “I don’t plan to be part of the opposition; I think I can do more than oppose.”
Castle is particularly liberal on environmental issues. On taxes and spending, he’s better. And he voted against Obamacare, though he waited until late in the game to declare his intentions. Castle’s lifetime ACU rating is 52.49. That’s about as centrist as you can get.
O’Donnell, by contrast, is a solid conservative and has been endorsed by Tea Party Express. But it seems unlikely to me that she can win in a state as liberal as Delaware. As noted, she lost to Biden by almost 2-1 in 2008. It was Biden’s biggest majority ever.
In fairness to O’Donnell, I didn’t think Scott Brown could win in liberal Massachusetts either until fairly late in the game. But Brown was a moderate and a successful politician. O’Donnell is a down-the-line conservative and has never been elected to office. In 2006, she finished third in the Republican Senate primary. In 2008, when she received the nomination to run against Biden, she was unopposed.
The good news for O’Donnell is that in the latest Rasmussen poll, she was leading Coons (the Democrat) by 41-39. But there is reason to doubt that this result — a statistical dead heat — would hold up if she were nominated. In that event, Coons would likely pound her for being too “right-wing” for Delaware, the way Harry Reid pounded Sharron Angle, and likely with the same success. Keep in mind, as well, that Coons is nowhere near as unpopular as Reid; only 9 percent of Delaware voters view him very negatively, according to Rasmussen. Moreover, Delaware is a much “bluer” state than Nevada.
Coons and/or his proxies can also be expected to bring up the financial and tax problems O’Donnell has experienced. Among other things, it has been reported that the IRS placed a lien on her in 2010 for over $11,000 in taxes owed for 2005.
O’Donnell argues that her financial difficulties make her sympathetic, and I certainly sympathize with her. Her debts seem to stem mainly, or perhaps entirely, from her persistent effort to bring a conservative message to Delaware voters. But whether Delaware voters will see things that way is less clear. And even if they do, they are likely also to see a candidate who is far more conservative than they are comfortable with.
In sum, there are prospects for a train wreck no matter which of the two candidates is nominated. Suppose Castle goes to the Senate and provides the 60th vote for an important piece of liberal legislation. Now suppose that O’Donnell is nominated, but loses to Coons, who provides the 60th vote for liberal legislation that Castle opposes. In either scenario, someone — either the Tea Party Express or the Republican state establishment — is going to have some explaining to do.
Fortunately, the primary is not until September 14. By then voters should have a somewhat better sense of O’Donnell’s odds of defeating Coons (but keep in mind that the most severe pounding on her won’t start unless and until she secures the nomination).
For his part, Castle should be asked to declare that he will not support various liberal legislation, at least during the lame duck session. If he won’t make the commitment, conservative voters can draw an “adverse inference.”
UPDATE: One way to look at this (though certainly not the only way) is as a math probllem. I see Castle as half a vote and the likelihood of him defeating Coons as around 75 percent. Thus, the “expected value” of Castle is 37.5 percent of a vote.
In this analysis, the question then becomes whether O’Donnell who, if elected, is a full vote, has a 37.5 percent chance of defeating Coons.
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