O’Donnell: Seismic Quake Or Y2K Fizzer

Delaware’s not so calm before tomorrow’s primary storm

There are seven primaries being held in the north tomorrow. But in the national eye there may as well just be one: Delaware.

The state’s been working its way to top billing for about a week, ever since the national media picked up on the surge of Tea Party-backed Christine O’Donnell. Blessed by the GOP’s Midas monarchs, Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint, O’Donnell has made gains in the Republican Senate primary. Today, a poll has McDonnell leading nine-term congressman Mike Castle for the first time—47 to 44, within the margin of error. According to The Washington Post, some Republicans looking beyond the primary are not pleased with the outcome. At all.

The Post’s Amy Gardner leads:

WILMINGTON, DEL. - It’s the “tea party” vs. the Republican Party in Tuesday’s Senate primary in Delaware, where a popular moderate is suddenly under siege from a little-known conservative who in any other year might have been relegated to the footnotes of 2010’s election records. …But Christine O’Donnell’s battle with Rep. Mike Castle perhaps embodies the movement’s greatest test, because unlike in other races in which the GOP has offered the tea party an awkward embrace, the Republican Party is fighting back.

Why are they fighting back so hard?

The reason, state GOP officials argue, is that O’Donnell is simply unqualified to hold office. A two-time losing candidate against then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. - whose old seat she and Castle are seeking - O’Donnell has a history of financial difficulties documented in the Wilmington News Journal that includes an IRS lien, a near-foreclosure on her mortgage and a dispute with her alma mater for not paying college expenses. She has a tiny campaign operation and, for most of the year, she received virtually no grass-roots financial support within Delaware. What O’Donnell has is the backing of Sarah Palin, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and the Tea Party Express. Their support has put her on the national political map not to mention within striking distance of upsetting Castle on Tuesday.

Under Siege!

Striking Distance!

These phrases, once just the titles of bad ’90s action films, are now common parlance in talk about elections held to decide from whom voters will choose in elections. But the O’Donnell surge has some among us reaching even further. TPM, admittedly never one for subtlety, warns a “Trainwreck” is coming in the form of the “totally wild-eyed” O’Donnell. And how’s this for a lede from Politico?

A new poll suggests a seismic upset might be in the making in Tuesday’s Delaware Republican Senate primary.

No upset’s going to take us by surprise this time around. We’ve been using our seismographs.

All this feverish national focus clearly had local blogger Celia Cohen, of The Delaware Grapevine, a little peeved last week. Forget earthquakes and wars and waves; Cohen has her own metaphors to argue that O’Donnell might be less Joe Miller than Hurricane Earl. As the national media worked itself into a tizz last week, Cohen had some beautiful retorts:

This candidacy is like the Y2K of politics. So much nervousness as the millennium approached. So many predictions that computers might seize up as they flipped from 1999 to 2000, taking out the power grid, making the air traffic go haywire and crashing the financial system.
Nothing happened. Ditto for Delaware politics.

Cohen then blames the computers.

This is really the state’s first taste of an Internet frenzy. The political herd is in full cry, agog about O’Donnell, its doomsday tones the sort that make people want to run out and strip the grocery stores of bread and milk.

And why shouldn’t we raid our Rite-Aids?

This is a race against Mike Castle, after all. He has won more statewide elections here than any other Republican in a dozen campaigns for congressman, governor and lieutenant governor. What he is facing now is nothing but a noise machine.

It should be remembered that O’Donnell ran before in a Republican senatorial primary. She got 17 percent of the vote and came in last in a three-way race in 2006.

Sounds like wise words to my ear. But I’m a fan of calm and reason, of waiting to see how things play out before predicting the final score. And who knows, Cohen and I might wake up tomorrow morning asking, “What happened?” while others say, “I told you so.”

But is there anything wrong with that? Asking “What just happened?” after something interesting happens—for instance, a Tea Partier knocking out a once-popular establishment figure. It used to be that was our job description.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.