Tea drinking season in the US
Rarely has a midterm primary season in the US generated so much press coverage, especially abroad. It isn’t a stretch to say that the Tea Party movement and the enthusiasm it has generated in the United States is one of the main causes for this exceptional interest in what is usually a boring thing which interests only the most passionate American psephologist. In the story of these primaries, we had the defeat of two sitting Republican Senators, Bob Bennett (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) by candidates running to their right. The latest incident in the Tea Party’s wild ride is the recent primary in Delaware.
Delaware has a special election for the US Senate seat vacated in January 2009 by Joe Biden, and, up until recently, it hadn’t generated much interest. Mike Castle, the state’s sole Representative in the House and a rather senior moderate Republican figure in Washington circles, announced his intention to run for Senate, likely as a nice way to seal off a long career including two terms as Governor and nearly eighteen years as the state’s Representative. Because politics in Delaware have historically been based on a gentlemen’s agreement between the main Democratic and Republican officials in the small state, Joe Biden’s son, Beau, the state’s AG, declined to run against Castle and instead that job went to former New Castle County executive Chris Coons, who was the sacrificial lamb against Mike Castle, whose senior moderate stature would most likely have carried him easily to the Senate.
Lisa Murkowsi’s defeat by the Tea Partier Joe Miller, who had Palin’s endorsement, was not all that surprising. Murkowski, whose corrupt father was defeated by Palin in the 2006 GOP gubernatorial primary, did not have a blank slate in terms of corruption and shady dealings. She was a major pork-barrel spender and a key Washington insider (and one open to working with Democrats), something which isn’t an asset in Republican primaries. On these conditions, it seemed unlikely that Mike Castle could lose. He was an honest man, moderate and well-respected. He also didn’t have a history of personal rivalry and family feud with Sarah Palin, like Murkowski had. On top of that, his opponent to his right, Christine O’Donnell (who had run against Joe Biden for Senate in 2008 and lost badly), wasn’t as intelligent and able as Joe Miller and her outings on conservative talk radio weren’t crowned with success. She said she had won two counties against Biden in 2008 (she won none), then backtracked to say she had tied in both and then said she had tied in one (she had come close in Sussex County, but lost by 272 votes there). She got press saying she was anti-masturbation. Furthermore, historically, O’Donnell, who had run in a GOP primary in 2007 and came third with a paltry 17%, has historically played the role of every party’s inoffensive crazy oddball. Normally, these type of candidates don’t cause much pain to old respected politicos. But in this climate of Republican anger at Obama’s policies and his big-government or ‘socialist’ agenda, O’Donnell managed to portray Mike Castle as a fake Republican who would be another vote for Obama and who did not have good conservative credentials. In doing so, in the context of a month, she managed to turn opinion against Mike Castle. What O’Donnell, not a strong candidate at any rate, managed to do, is quite impressive and speaks volumes about the radicalization of the Republican Party.
O’Donnell, strong from a Palin endorsement, defeated Mike Castle 53-47, a six-point margin, not predicted by any poll (PPP’s shock poll on Monday had her up 3). Mike Castle showed some strength in New Castle County, which he won 58-42, but O’Donnell beat him by massive margins in Delaware’s two other more southern and conservative counties.
However, O’Donnell is now more than likely to lose rather badly, likely by double digits, to Chris Coons. If one Democrat is unhappy, it must be Beau Biden, who declined to run in order to maintain the Delaware gentlemen’s agreement and to give Mike Castle his shot in the Senate. But now that O’Donnell has upset this longtime gentlemen’s agreement, Beau Biden is left all alone without any major political openings unless Senator Carper retires in 2012.
In other primaries on Tuesday, teabagger Carl Paladino won the New York, soundly defeating 62-38 Rick Lazio, the NY GOP’s perennial fail candidate, though Rick Lazio will be running on the Conservative line, splitting the vote of an already weak Republican Party in New York and increasing Andrew Cuomo’s chances to win from 95% to 99%. In New Hampshire, Kelly Ayotte narrowly survived her Senate primary against Tea Party-backed businessman Ovide Lamontagne, winning 38% to Lamontagne’s 37%, even though Ayotte’s conservative credentials were far more firmly established than Mike Castle’s. Ayotte’s win is good for Republican odds to hold on to Judd Gregg’s seat.