Signs and portents continue to pile up indicating that the battle of 2010 shall come to be known as The Tea Party Election. Highly excitable groups of newly engaged activists have taken not only to the streets but to their local boards of elections, carrying petitions door to door and crashing the careers of traditional, party machine politicians, replacing them with a new breed of outsiders. Sometimes this has proven highly effective, shocking the establishment and introducing the world to fresh faces which have been largely lacking in Washington for a generation. Can you feel the fever?
But in the rush to pluck new candidates from among the hoi polloi, inexperienced organizers have, on occasion, failed to perform due diligence in the vetting process. This has produced notable figures such as Sharron Angle in Nevada. Ms. Angle may yet carry the day in November, but thus far her most remarkable feat seems to have been breathing fresh if temporary life into the corpse of Harry Reid’s career, previously left for dead on the side of the electoral superhighway.
The latest chapter in this story now seems to be unfolding in Delaware, where the Tea Party Express has resurrected the political aspirations of Christine O’Donnell in hopes of derailing Congressman Mike Castle’s bid as the presumed Republican nominee for the Senate seat previously held by Vice President Joe Effing Biden. In years past, while working on a couple of races in New Jersey, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Castle. I have also spoken to some of his supporters in the First State. And I’m here to tell you that Castle has two overwhelming flaws which would obviously make him unsuitable during the season of Tea Party Fever.
- He’s completely electable
- He’s sane.
Who in their right mind would want such a boring choice on the ballot? This race won’t have very long to play out, but the usual suspects in the chattering classes are moving in quickly and circling like vultures. As Dave Weigel recently pointed out in Slate, rank and file Republicans are already bringing up issues of Ms. O’Donnell’s previous financial woes, saddling her with the label of “troubled perennial candidate.” (Which, as Weigel points out, is just a marginally nicer way of saying “crazy person.”)
And what were the monetary worries in question? The would-be senator who is adopting the popular mantle of fiscal conservatism and responsibility apparently ran into some problems not only with campaign finance laws, but the Internal Revenue Service as well:
But while she was courting voters, she amassed thousands of dollars in campaign debt, was confronted by the IRS about unpaid income taxes and sold her Wilmington home to a campaign staffer to avoid a sheriff’s sale ordered to settle mortgage claims, a News Journal investigation shows. O’Donnell, who entered national politics as an anti-pornography crusader, attributed her financial predicament to misunderstandings and errors.
Obviously, troubles such as those can often be attributed to honest mistakes, particularly for an inexperienced and minimally funded candidate. But they certainly look bad on paper and provide potent ammunition for one’s political enemies.
But what of her opponent? On the other side of the Republican table we have poor old Mike Castle. The congressman has been vetted by the opposition from hell to breakfast, and if there’s any dirt to be found on him, it will likely require a significant meteor impact to unearth it. He has little to recommend him beyond his ability to easily win Delaware elections dating back to 1966 and his experience as a legislator (in the state House and Senate), an executive (ten years as lt. governor and then governor), and the state’s at-large member of Congress for the past seventeen years. But who cares about a little thing like electability when you’re trying to wrest control of a Senate seat which has been held by the Democrats since Nixon was in office?
And speaking of electability, is the ongoing dog and pony show having any effect on the never-ending polling game? If Rasmussen is any judge of things, it just might be. They currently find Mike Castle picking up 49% to Democrat Chris Coons’ 37%. If we swap out Castle and insert O’Donnell, she now trails the Democrat by double digits, having been virtually tied with him a month ago.
Obviously the very moderate Castle is distasteful to many activists riding the Tea Party Express bus in the fast lane. He was instrumental in the development and passage of the DISCLOSE Act, hated by many in hard-core conservative circles. And that was only the latest in a long line of sins for the audience in question. But Delaware hasn’t seemed to mind, and why would they? The man is a NERP (Northeast Republican Politician), after all, and he votes in that strange way we’ve grown accustomed to from our Northeast Republicans.
The political class — both old school and new — will be watching this race in the days to come. Those pesky grassroots activists have pulled off some miracles before, and there’s no guarantee they won’t do it again with O’Donnell. Meanwhile, the state GOP will chew their collective nails down to the cuticles, waiting to see if Christine will begin channeling Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, or who knows who else after the national spotlight settles firmly upon her and she spends more time with a microphone shoved in her face. Either way, get out the popcorn and slushies. It may turn out to be a wild ride.