For Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party magic has worn off and the hard-hitting realities of a general election have set in.
Following her stunning victory over moderate Mike Castle in last month’s Republican primary, she seemed destined for political stardom. Her rapid rise within the Tea Party ranks instantly drew her favorable comparisons to Sarah Palin, based upon more than just the pair’s similar looks.
Like Palin, she was considered a fresh face; she enthused the GOP base in an almost supernatural way; and her folksy, perky appeal, while charming to core supporters, led detractors to levy brutal and over-the-top attacks.
O’Donnell’s bid always seemed like a long shot. But in a year with political winds as favorable to Republicans as this, even a staunch conservative like herself had a slim chance in liberal-tilting Delaware. If Scott Brown showed Republicans anything, it was that the dissatisfaction with President Obama reached far and wide.
But unlike other Tea Party candidates in states like Kentucky, Nevada, Florida and Colorado, O’Donnell has struggled to rally a skeptical GOP establishment to her side, both vocally and financially.
This past weekend she groused and grumbled on ABC’s “This Week” that the National Republican Senatorial Committee was giving her the cold shoulder when it came to coughing up the necessary dough for her to make a sizable dent in her Democratic opponent’s lead.
“The state party isn’t helping us,” O’Donnell said. “We’re hoping that the National Republican Senatorial Committee will help us, but it’s two and half weeks left and they’re not.”
The lack of monetary support coming from Beltway Republicans smacks of a lingering resentment from a hotly contested primary. There is a firm belief amongst establishment types that if the GOP falls a seat short of recapturing the Senate, the blame will rightfully belong to O’Donnell and her ill-advised venture to knock out the heavily favored and far more electable Castle.
Revelations about O’Donnell’s past life as a conservative activist during the general election hasn’t made it any easier for the establishment to open up its coffers. The now infamous clips of her appearances on Bill Maher’s “ Politically Incorrect” during the 1990s has lead to a steady stream of late-night fodder, with many comedians using her name as a punch-line for easy laughs.
Still, for all of her baggage, and the efforts of opponents to demonize her as a cartoonish figure, some Democrats, including those in the White House, refuse to dismiss her chances of beating Democrat Chris Coons
Just last week, President Obama and Vice President Biden made a visit to Delaware to stump for Coons. Though they never mentioned her name, their mere presence in the state spoke volumes about how seriously they regard her candidacy.
Because establishment money or not, O’Donnell has proven to be a moneymaker all on her own. She has successfully parlayed her Tea Party prowess into a healthy financial advantage over Coons; at the end of September, her financial haul was twice the size of his. Matched with the force of her personality and charisma along with an anything-goes election year, and it’s easy to see why the White House is intent on taking a better-safe-than-sorry approach to the race.
It will take a miraculous alignment of the political stars for O’Donnell to prevail in 13 days. All polls show a Mt. Rushmore type lead for Coons. Even more than numerical deficits, O’Donnell’s candidacy remains beset by quirky past statements and gaps of knowledge on key issues. With Coons riding so high this late in the game, O’Donnell’s bid has taken on an almost quixotic feel.
It’s a futile ending that seems greatly unbefitting of a once promising star.
Aaron Guerrero is a 2009 UC Davis graduate who majored in political science and minored in history. He formerly interned for Rep. Dan Lungren and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and is a freelance writer.