GEORGETOWN, Del. (AP) — After their bruising U.S. Senate battle, Democratic senator-elect Chris Coons and his defeated Republican opponent Christine O’Donnell made nice Thursday in a time-honored Delaware ritual where political foes bury a hatchet as a symbol of making amends.
Coons and O’Donnell rode together in a parade of horse-drawn carriages and old-time automobiles that ended with party leaders burying a hatchet in a box of sand. Coons sat by his wife, Annie, while O’Donnell was accompanied by a bodyguard.
Coons gave a thumbs-up signal when asked how he and O’Donnell were getting along.
The two traded had sharp barbs during the campaign, but O’Donnell said Coons has been “very cordial” to her.
“I sincerely wish him well,” she said.
The southern Delaware hamlet of Georgetown plays host to the event called Return Day after every election. It harkens back to a time when residents traveled to the county seat to vote and returned two days later to hear the election results read.
In a break with tradition, the master of ceremonies invited Coons and O’Donnell to pose together with the hatchet before it was buried, to show healing within Delaware’s political establishment. The phrase “bury the hatchet” dates back to a Native American expression for peacemaking.
Riding behind Coons and O’Donnell in the parade were Democratic congressman-elect John Carney Jr. and his Republican opponent, Glen Urquhart. Like O’Donnell, Urquhart attracted strong support from the tea party movement and defeated a GOP-endorsed candidate in the primary election.
“I wish I had a camera, this is the perfect shot,” O’Donnell joked as Carney and Urquhart disembarked at the end of the parade and began walking down the street together.
Coons, Urquhart and Carney were among the politicians who attended a VIP reception before the parade. O’Donnell missed the reception because of an apparent mix-up, saying she thought she was supposed to report to the staging area for the parade.
Although Return Day is supposed to let candidates and politicians to put any harsh feelings aside, O’Donnell’s upset victory over longtime congressman and former governor Mike Castle in the GOP primary left a lingering impact on the state Republican Party.
Besides O’Donnell and Urquhart, GOP candidates for state treasurer and several legislative seats were defeated as well.
“The Republican party took a real shellacking in this election in Delaware,” Castle told The Associated Press.
During the primary, state GOP chairman Tom Ross leveled sharp words against O’Donnell, saying she couldn’t be elected “dogcatcher.” Castle said he doesn’t blame Ross for the GOP losses.
“I think that responsibility lies particularly with the candidate for the Senate, the Republican candidate for Senate, who stirred the emotions of the Democrats to come out and to vote, and it ran down the ticket,” Castle said.
He also said, “Obviously there’s always going to be a question of the tea party influence and the candidates who were nominated, whether they were the right candidates or not.” Castle added that the GOP “needs to understand that it’s got to involve all segments of the state, all segments of the Republican Party.”
Castle said the tea party movement must be reckoned with, and that it made some decent points during the campaign, including the need to control state and federal spending.
“We need to bridge this gap that exists between the Republicans and the tea party,” he said. “… It’s going to take everybody being willing to sit down and negotiate and discuss this stuff.”