The GOP's Greatest 2010 Defeat... Courtesy of the Tea Party?

| Tue Sep. 14, 2010 5:30 AM EDT

UPDATE: Christine O'Donnell defeated Rep. Mike Castle in the Delaware Republican primary. Read more about the upset here.

Could the tea party's greatest triumph mark the biggest Republican loss this election cycle? Throughout the primary campaign season, the movement's tussles with the GOP have resulted in the rise of Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, and Joe Miller—all tea party-backed candidates who upset the establishment Republican favorites in their respective Senate GOP primaries. And despite this internal squabble, the GOP seemed to be increasing its chances of taking over the Senate, as all had a good shot at winning in the general election. That was until tea partier Christine O'Donnell suddenly surged in the Delaware Republican primary against Rep. Mike Castle.

Castle, one of the few remaining moderate Republicans in Congress, has long been a favorite target of the grassroots right, but the going assumption was that he had a clear path to the Senate. Having developed a reputation for breaking from his party, the long-time Congressman was well liked in the small, Democratic-leaning state, making him the early favorite in the race for Vice-President Biden's old seat. But last month, Miller's surprise upset of Lisa Murkowski in Alaska created in a massive boost of support for O'Donnell—including endorsements from Sarah Palin, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), the National Rifle Association, and the major national tea party groups. And this right-wing campaign seems to have paid off, with the latest poll from Public Policy Polling showing O'Donnell with a three points lead over Castle, 47-44, in Tuesday's primary.

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Ultimately, though, the biggest benefactor of an O'Donnell victory could be the Democratic Party, as she has a significantly weaker shot against the likely Democratic contender, lawyer and county executive Chris Coons. According to PPP, Coons, the likely Democratic contender, "would start out with a large advantage over O'Donnell in a general election match up, and is polling closer to Castle than he was when PPP polled Delaware last month." If the GOP loses Delaware, it could completely blow its chance at getting enough seats for a Senate majority.
 Why might the GOP be doomed? Though tea party candidates are notorious for embracing extreme positions, O'Donnell might just be the queen of the lunatic fringe. "Christine O'Donnell makes Sharron Angle look like Margaret Thatcher," tweeted Jim Geraghty from the National Review, a conservative standard-bearer. Here's Daily Intel's tour of O'Donnell's greatest hits:

  • She believes that masturbating or looking at pornography is tantamount to adultery.
  • She said of Castle's campaign: "They’re following me. They follow me home at night. I make sure that I come back to the townhouse and then we have our team come out and check all the bushes and check all the cars to make sure that...They’re hiding in the bushes when I’m at candidate forums."
  • She claimed that when she ran against Joe Biden in 2008, she won two of Delaware's three counties. In reality, she hadn't won any. When this discrepancy was pointed out by a radio host, O'Donnell claimed that she had actually tied Biden in one of them. Still not true.
  • Though she had previously claimed to have graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University, O'Donnell only received her degree 10 days ago. [MoJo: She also falsely implied that she was taking Master's classes at Princeton.]
  • In 2005 she sued a conservative nonprofit organization for $6.9 million for gender discrimination and wrongful termination. She dropped the lawsuit in 2008.

Rightly fearful of an O'Donnell win, the national GOP has tried to paint her as an unelectable fraud and liar, sparking a massive internal fight. After declaring that the tea party favorite couldn't "be elected dog catcher," Delaware state GOP chairman Tom Ross received a death threat over the weekend that said he deserved "a bullet in the head" for backing "political ass-kissing RINO's" [Republicans In Name Only]. Even if Castle manages to protect his seat, the rift on the right could end up undercutting his candidacy in the general election, as it appears unlikely that O'Donnell supporters will be likely to forgive and forget after this vicious row. In an election cycle that's so strongly favored the GOP—which remains likely to take over the House—the Democrats may luck out on this one.

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