Republican Christine O’Donnell delivers stunning upset of Congressman Michael Castle.
Tea Party insurgent Christine O’Donnell made U.S. Rep. Michael Castle taste defeat tonight for the first time in decades. Riding a national tide of dissatisfaction with incumbents of all stripes, O’Donnell whipped Castle in the Delaware Republican Senate pimary by 53 percent to 47 percent.
In a speech to supporters in Wilmingon a while before O’Donnell gave her victory speech, Castle didn’t mention her, instead choosing to reflect on his years of service and and thank his staff.
“I told my staff,” he said, “”You know you’re probably going to have a lot more free time in the next seven weeks then you thought you were going to have.’ That’s probably the case. It’s sad in a way, but a lot of these folks have earned their free time also, so hopefully they can enjoy it. Your dedication and support I can tell you has made a difference.”
O’Donnell, fueled by money and messaging from the Tea Party Express group, surged to victory in the low turnout primary. In November, she’ll face Democratic nominee Chris Coons for the seat being vacated by Ted Kaufman, who filled out the term of Joe Biden after Biden won the vice presidency.
Her victory scrambled the national Republican Party’s expectation that the Delaware seat would move easily from the Democratic to the GOP column, given Castle’s long-time popularity in the First State.
The last time Castle faced a Republican primary the year was 1992. He handily defeated Janet Rzewnicki that year and won his first term in office that November. Over the next 18 years Castle raked in the votes, becoming one of the most consistent vote-getters in the state’s history. His lowest percentage of the vote came in 2006 when he “only” got 57 percent of the vote against Democrat Dennis Spivack. That was also the year Castle suffered a minor stroke just weeks before the election.
That track record is part of the reason Castle’s big loss is so stunning. For most of the summer, Castle’s campaign focused on the general election match-up with Democratic candidaate Coons. As O’Donnell’s campaign gained steam in late August, thanks in big part to the efforts of the Tea Party Express, Castle launched a series of ads criticizing O’Donnell’s personal financial record. But it was too little too late.
O’Donnell was able to convince the majority of Republicans who came to polls that Castle’s time was up – a theme that has hurt other Republican incumbents this primary season as Tea Party fervor surged.
Castle reflected on the ugly nature of the campaign, especially in the weeks leading up to the primary: “The last several weeks have been spirited, shall we say? The voters in the Republican primary have spoken, and I respect that decision.”
As he was saying goodbye to the crowd, someone shouted “2012”, to which Castle replied, “Easy on the 2012 talk; I don’t know if we’re ready for that.”
Republican turnout was around 32%. Turnout for Democrats, who had fewer races to vote for, was just 12%.
The race for Castle’s seat in the U.S. House also featured an upset, Glen Urquhart narrowly defeated GOP backed candidate Michele Rollins by just 552 votes. Urquhart claimed victory, but Rollins has not conceded.