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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Why the Delaware and New Hampshire Senate Primaries Matter

Lord knows I’ve written enough about today’s final big batch of primaries, here and elsewhere. But in advance of the results, it’s a good idea to think about the significance of the fact that two very unlikely candidates for the U.S. Senate are in a position to compete seriously for Republican nominations.
In Delaware, Christine O’Donnell is not exactly the kind of person you’d expect to become the Tea Party avenger against establishment candidate Mike Castle. She’s had the sort of tax, mortgage and student loan problems that afflict many Americans, but that most Tea Party folk have righteously condemned as as example of the irresponsibility that is the country’s chief vice. She’s launched what most conservatives would call a “frivolous lawsuit,” against a conservative organization, claiming gender discrimination, no less. And at a time when we are supposed to believe that conservatives are focused on fiscal, not cultural issues, O’Donnell’s main claim to fame and ticket to get on television has been her unusually extreme views on sexual behavior, which I won’t go into in detail at this family-friendly site.
She’s not from Delaware, and at present, has no visible means of support. That she might defeat Mike Castle, a man who’s won twelve straight statewide elections, and is the best and perhaps only hope for a Republican victory in November, is a red flashing sign of the extent to which Republican primary voters are elevating ideology among all competing concerns.
In New Hampshire, Kelly Ayotte is on paper the ultimate Republican dream candidate. She’s attractive to independents, but is also conservative enough to have won endorsements from Sarah Palin and several anti-abortion groups. She has none of Castle’s ideological or voting-record problems. She’s sort of the East Coast version of Carly Fiorina, without the history of laying off employees in the private sector or the powerful incumbent opponent or the daunting political landscape. Her fast-rising challenger, Ovide Lamontagne, most resembles Iowa gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats (who lost to establishment candidate Terry Branstad in June), a longtime soujourner in the social conservative fields without much money or pizazz. But Lamontagne has the backing of the New Hampshire Union-Leader, and its willingness to attack Ayotte every single day during the stretch drive to the primary, mainly for the sin of going along with a court-orderered settlement that gave Planned Parenthood $300,000 in legal fees after it sued the state over its parental-notification law, which Ayotte stoutly fought to defend.
There’s a lot going on in both states, and both Castle and Ayotte may well win. But the fact that either of them is in trouble speaks volumes about the current condition of the GOP, beyond the oft-mentioned fact that O’Donnell and Lamontagne would instantly make these two races an uphill climb against Democratic opponents. The big story of the primary season is that virtually every candidate in GOP contests has sought the “true conservative” mantle, and where right-wing insurgents haven’t won, they’ve pushed their opponents to the right.

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