Weak tea in Delaware


    We’re being entertained this campaign season by a raft of tea-party Republican candidates who have already…how shall I politely put this…expanded the parameters of political dialogue.
    For instance, in Alaska, surprise GOP senatorial nominee Joe Miller insists that jobless benefits are an affront to the Founding Fathers (“it’s not constitutionally authorized”), which means that millions of jobless people screwed by the recession can expect no help from Joe Miller.

    Meanwhile, in Nevada, GOP senatorial nominee Sharron Angle has been insisting that abortion is always morally wrong, that women impregnated by the act of rape should be forced to give birth to the rapist’s child. Why? Because that rape is God’s will. In her words, “I’m a Christian, and I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each of our lives.”

    In Colorado, GOP gubernatorial nominee Dan Maes has been insisting that the city of Denver’s pioneering bicycle-sharing program is a dire plot to lay waste to all we hold dear. In his words, the bike program, which has already attracted 14,000 members, “is bigger than it looks on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms.”

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    And now, in the Delaware GOP senatorial primary, we have tea-party darling Christine O’Donnell, who has long taken a tough stance in opposition to…masturbation.

    O’Donnell, in a normal year, would barely qualify as a footnote. If this was a normal year, moderate GOP congressman (and former governor) Mike Castle would win the party’s Senate nomination with ease in next Tuesday’s primary, and find himself well positioned to defeat Democrat Chris Coons in November, thereby giving his party a rare Senate seat in a traditionally blue state.

    But O’Donnell is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Russo Marsh & Rogers, the California Republican strategy firm that created the Tea Party Express. This is the faux grassroots group that pumped $550,000 into the Alaska race and catapulted Miller to the GOP nomination while incumbent Republican senator Lisa Murkowski sat on her money and slumbered. Pumped by that win, the group has now adopted O’Donnell, a previously twice-failed candidate, with the aim of toppling Castle six days from now.

    The only problem is that O’Donnell is a veritable train wreck. And Castle and the Republican establishment – spooked by what happened in Alaska – are spending serious money to ensure that Delaware Republican voters know it.

    Which brings us to, among other things, the issue of masturbation. She’s against it. As she once wrote in an article, “We need to teach a higher standard than abstinence.” As she once explained during an MTV appearance, masturbation is not an acceptable alternative to unsafe sex because “you’re just gonna create somebody who is, I was gonna say, toying with his sexuality.” Besides, “The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery. So you can’t masturbate without lust.”

    I think I get what she’s driving at. It’s clearly a slippery slope: If you touch yourself in an intimate fashion, the next thing you know you’ll be an enemy of freedom, somebody who defends Social Security, jobless benefits, and the sharing of bicycles.

    But of greater concern, perhaps, is O’Donnell’s well-documented problems with empirical reality. This character flaw is undoubtedly the greatest challenge for the Tea Party Express, which is nevertheless dumping $250,000 into Delaware for a last-ditch advertising campaign. It’s a brave decision indeed to invest so heavily in a candidate who tells audiences that she won two counties while being shellacked by Joe Biden in the 2008 Senate race – whereas, in truth, she won none.

    This all came up, in quite entertaining fashion, on a radio show six days ago. Conservative talk show host Dan Gaffney, who had supported O’Donnell in the past, played a recent audio recording in which O’Donnell claimed to have won two counties. He then asked her to comment.

    “Oh, you know what that probably was? You’re on the campaign trail a lot, and I meant ‘tied.'”

    Gaffney: “You didn’t ‘tie’ him, either.”

    “Absolutely, I did.”

    “…Christine, he won in votes. You know that.”

    “It’s right there in black and white, I tied…”

    “We don’t pick a winner based on percentage.”

    O’Donnell finally demanded to know, “Is Castle paying you off?”

    Anyway, you get the idea. But that’s the least of it. When O’Donnell first tried for the Senate GOP nomination in 2006, her website described her as a “graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University.” Which doesn’t quite square with last week’s announcement, from Fairleigh Dickinson, that she has now been officially awarded her college degree – 17 years after attending the school.

    This is one reason why the state GOP chairman is making remarks like, “I’m not sure Christine even knows what the truth is anymore” and “She could not be elected dog catcher.” It also turns out that she owes $11,744 in back taxes, another $11,000 in unpaid campaign debt from 2008, and that she defaulted on her mortgage. Most of those items have now surfaced in a Mike Castle TV ad.

    It’s rare to see such Republican fratricide – the state chairman has also called her “hypocritical” and “reckless” – but it’s understandable. The Delaware GOP primary is open only to registered Republicans, which means that Castle will be deprived of his traditional support from independents and moderates. Given what happened in Alaska, he has no choice but to scare the conservative base away from O’Donnell.

    And there’s the electability factor to consider. Unlike traditional red states such as Alaska and Utah (where another tea-party favorite recently toppled the Republican senatorial incumbent), Delaware typically has a blue hue. The polls predictably show that Castle would probably beat the Democrat, Coons – but that Coons would cruise past O’Donnell with ease. Surely Delaware’s conservative Republican base isn’t so besotted with tea-party fervor that it would tap an upstart nominee who’s sure to lose in November.

    Or would they?

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