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Tea Party Candidates Must Learn the Art of Fencing

Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell lost, at least in part, because of their lack of deftness in dealing with a hostile press.

by
Elizabeth Scalia

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November 3, 2010 - 4:14 pm
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Tea-Party favorite Christine O’ Donnell lost her bid to become Delaware’s newest senator by a whopping 16% margin. She lost it to a condescending, nasty fellow that nobody in Delaware actually likes very much.

In Nevada, Sharron Angle — another Tea Party favorite — also lost, by a narrower margin, her Senate race against Harry Reid, a condescending, nasty fellow that nobody in Nevada actually likes at all.

Angle ran against an established senator and lost by only 5%,  while O’Donnell, vying for an empty seat, lost by three times that. One would expect the results to have been exactly opposite: that the established candidate would crush his opponent, while the empty seat would bring a squeaker.

Had the economy in Nevada been better, or the mood of the electorate a bit less angry, it is doubtful that Angle could have challenged the incumbent Reid as effectively as she did. Considering both, however, Harry Reid should have been unseated this year, and the only reason he was not — machine politics aside — was because of Angle’s own weaknesses.

Both Sharron Angle and Christine O’ Donnell were running long-shot campaigns in states that habitually send goofball Democrat men to the senate. Both women, unfortunately, carried their own goofball-vibes with them. Angle, on paper a stronger candidate than O’Donnell, had a perpetual deer-in-headlights look to her; she had problems taking questions or working outside of a script, and she ran some questionable ads.

O’Donnell, scrappier and more confident than Angle, was more willing to jump into the fray, but often unable to communicate her thoughts clearly. She also ran some questionable ads. The problem was never that O’Donnell was “not a witch,” but that her “I’m you” was unconvincing and did not resonate beyond her base.

Some are blaming the O’Donnell defeat on the GOP establishment, which was lukewarm to her candidacy. If only Karl Rove and Charles Krauthammer had given O’ Donnell their seals of approval, the whine goes, she would have won.

Well, had O’ Donnell lost by a point or three, that argument might be valid, but when a candidate loses by 15 points — particularly against so unlikable an opponent as Senator-elect Chris Coons — the blame needs to be a bit more inwardly directed. On the stump, in debate, and even in her concession speech, Christine O’Donnell came off as a platitude-spouting lightweight, fine for a morning talk show (in fact, perhaps too smart for some of them) but not for the Senate.

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