Chris Coons: An independent or a Democratic ‘pet’?

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Chris Coons says he’ll be “an independent voice” if elected to the U.S. Senate.

But Republicans say the Democrat facing the Tea Party-backed Republican, Christine O’Donnell, for Delaware’s Senate seat will just become another rubber-stamp for President Obama.

Much has been made since the New Castle County executive — a state coordinator for Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000 — was called “my pet… my favorite candidate,” by Democratic Sen. Harry Reid when Coons’ campaign was reinvigorated by poll numbers showing him leading O’Donnell after her stunning primary victory.

And this week, Coons sent a fundraising e-mail suggesting that he would be a reliable Democratic vote in a lame-duck session this winter. (Since the Delaware Senate contest is a special election to fill the seat that Vice-President Joe Biden vacated after the 2008 election, the winner will be seated immediately instead of in January.)

“With votes on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Bush tax cuts already planned, Democrats need every vote in that session if we are to take on the challenges we face as a state and a nation,” Coons wrote.

But on a recent TV appearance, Coons responded by saying he’s “no one’s pet” and will be “an independent voice in the United States Senate,” going on to name Obama’s proposal for offshore drilling as well as the Troubled Asset Relief Program as two examples of policies he disagrees with Democrats on.

So who is Coons? His campaign did not respond to a request from The Daily Caller to interview the candidate, but this is what we know:

The Democrat, who as a young Republican supported Ronald Reagan before his views liberalized during a college-years, represents two-thirds of Delaware residents as county executive and is paid more than $100,000 a year in salary.

His accomplishments, according to his online biography, include “cutting millions in wasteful spending and restoring fiscal responsibility to county government.”

But critics have made the argument that that’s not exactly the case. Spending in New Castle County increased by 10 percent and property taxes were raised three times during Coon’s leadership, according to a memo released by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The News-Journal in Wilmington reported in 2004 that when Coons ran against Democrat Sherry Freebery in 2004 for county executive, a brochure was distributed that attempted to smear Coons by pointing out that he’s attended affluent schools and experimented with drugs when he was younger, something he once admitted on a radio show.

For college, he went to Amherst and while he left for Africa during his junior year as a Republican, when he returned he penned an article in his college newspaper titled, “Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist.” While O’Donnell recently criticized Coons, a graduate of Yale Law School, for referring to himself that way, Coons downplayed it, saying it was just in reference to what his Republican friends — making fun of him for his transformation into a liberal — called him.
On the issues, Coons favors cap and trade legislation, the recent financial regulation bill and is pro-choice. “Abortion should remain safe, legal, and rare for women regardless of their financial means,” he says on his website. On foreign policy, he calls himself  “a Truman Democrat,” who believes the country is “best served by a robust, engaged foreign policy, based in diplomacy and strategic partnerships with other nations.”

A Rasmussen poll released this week — which factors in Republican Rep. Mike Castle running as a write-in, something that is not yet determined — shows Coons leading O’Donnell 49 to 40 percent.

Dr. Joseph Pika, a political scientist at the University of Delaware, said the race is Castle’s to lose, but several factors could change that.

“What could go wrong: something embarrassing could surface; Castle could still be a write-in candidate and hurt Coons more than O’Donnell; Democrats’ turnout could be abysmal, producing an O’Donnell squeaker; O’Donnell’s message could suddenly begin to resonate with a larger part of the voting public.  I don’t see any of these as very probable but they’re always possible,” he said.