WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – “I’m not a witch, I’m you.” These are six of the most bizarre words stitched together in a television campaign ad.
Republican Christine O’Donnell’s past set off a firestorm in her 2010 Delaware U.S. Senate match-up against Democrat Chris Coons when old tapes of her surfaced talking about dabbling in witchcraft.
O’Donnell claimed she was kidding, of sorts. Delaware voters thought the joke was on them and intervened at the ballot box electing Coons.
Her Senate race against Coons may, interestingly enough, give some instruction about the match-up between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
O’Donnell was the darling of the far right base of the Delaware Republican party centered in the southern part of the state. She won the GOP primary by beating longtime establishment figure Mike Castle who had served as the state’s governor and congressman.
Her celebrity got her booked on cable news programs and chat shows. The race garnered international attention from as far away as Japan and Norway.
The defeat of the establishment wing of the Delaware Republican party stunned a state where such things don’t happen in the state’s politics. It wasn’t part of what is called the “Delaware way”.
Candidates usually waited their turn, folded their hands and offered up a center-left or center-right platform that elicited golf claps at Rotary Club meetings and the like. O’Donnell table flipped that old guard like an upset housewife in a Bravo reality show.
After the September 2010 primary, the talk in Delaware questioned how O’Donnell won? How did that happen?
It’s rather simple. Quite a few former Republicans in the state had switched parties in 2008 to vote in the contested Democratic primary for president or the primary for Governor. They were the country club types who weren’t all that partisan.
Republican in name only is what the far right calls them. And, they had left the Delaware GOP for good.
What was left? A base which was unapologetically conservative. They weren’t interested in compromise. They couldn’t stand President Obama nor Washington nor the establishment. And, their vote for O’Donnell in the primary was a middle finger to all of them.
O’Donnell had a window after the primary, albeit brief, to take hold with the state’s large swath of the electorate who had voted for Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Mike Castle in the past. Those voters many times looked past party label to find the most sensible candidate for Delaware’s good. It’s a small state and Delaware only had three seats in the entire Congress.
And, it’s almost as if no one in O’Donnell’s world thought past the primary nor had a clue about running a general election campaign for the U.S. Senate. They looked at each other and winged it.
O’Donnell’s speeches were a mish-mash of policy positions and there was no structure to her campaign to get elected. And, if it came out of her mouth it turned into a policy position.
All the attention didn’t legitimize O’Donnell. It made her politically toxic. She made a state which has long had to shake off the nickname “Delawhere?” into a late night punchline and the voters didn’t like it one bit.
The Democrat in the race might have put you to sleep listening to him but he was reliable, tested, accomplished and ready to be a U.S. Senator. They didn’t have to love him but they fell in “like” with Chris Coons.
Any of this sound familiar? Actually all of it does.
The 2010 Delaware Senate race sounds a lot like what’s happened politically in the presidential race this year. Enough similarities to make you wonder if there were warning signs of this dating back six years ago. And, if there are not so subtle signals of things to come.
Signals such as an angry Republican base who had listened when their fellow party members previously told them to go along with the establishment. Be patient. Be compliant. Or better yet just be quiet.
Conservatives spoke loudly in that Delaware primary they had enough(!) but the jury in the general election was decidedly different. A lack of a general election campaign plan and a state party which bailed on O’Donnell left her in tatters stumbling into November 2010.
Her Democratic opponent knew he only had to disqualify O’Donnell to win but, you see, he didn’t have to work hard to do it. She did most of it by herself.
In recent days, Donald Trump, unwittingly, has been disqualifying himself with some sectors with his actions and words, too. Trump, at the urging of his children, fired his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, Monday. Maybe, we’re in for a disciplined candidate with a consistent message and the history of the 2010 O’Donnell campaign won’t repeat itself.