Christine O’Donnell surges in Delaware, draws scrutiny

Rachel Rose Hartman
September 13, 2010
Christine O'Donnell listens to a Sept. 7 Tea Party Express event.
Christine O'Donnell listens to a Sept. 7 Tea Party Express event.

Christine O'Donnell's Delaware candidacy for U.S. Senate is quickly gaining momentum ahead of Tuesday night's primary: A new poll out Monday shows  that the tea party Republican has surged ahead of her primary rival, Rep. Mike Castle, and she's continuing to pick up high-profile endorsements.

O'Donnell, a marketing consultant, burst onto the national scene less than two weeks ago when the Tea Party Express announced that it was throwing its support behind her in the hopes of replicating the successful campaign it waged on behalf of tea party favorite Joe Miller, who unseated incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska's recent GOP primary. In short order, O'Donnell netted endorsements from Sarah Palin and the NRA's Political Victory Fund.

Over the weekend, Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina added his name to the list. DeMint is probably the most powerful elected official identified with the tea party movement. He also runs a prominent conservative political action committee that has directed funds to many conservative candidates this cycle.

In a new Public Policy Polling survey, O'Donnell leads Castle 47 to 44 percent. The poll's margin of error is 3.8 percent, making the race effectively a dead heat.

But with O'Donnell's new stature comes greater public scrutiny -- and not all of it has been beneficial.

The Weekly Standard's John McCormack reported this weekend that O'Donnell sought $6.95 million in damages in a gender discrimination lawsuit against a former employer and misrepresented her education credentials.

O'Donnell argued in the suit that she was owed damages in part for "mental anguish" suffered after, as she claimed, she'd been demoted and then fired because of her gender. But O'Donnell also falsely implied in the suit that she had a master's degree from Princeton University, McCormack reports.  At the time, she had not yet received her bachelor's degree and had not been accepted to a master's program at Princeton. O'Donnell dropped the lawsuit in 2008, citing the burden of legal fees.

The Delaware Republican Party continues to firmly back Castle's Senate bid, while blasting O'Donnell's candidacy. Its chairman, Tom Ross, and others have attacked O'Donnell for alleged federal campaign violations, personal financial problems and other issues. O'Donnell has addressed many of these charges on her website.

Castle supporters say they remain confident that the congressman will win the nomination. As Ross told Politico's David Catanese, one new poll isn't going to change that:

"I don't buy it, it's a Democratic poll, but it's all about turnout," Ross said. "There's a large segment of the population that is familiar with [O'Donnell's] antics, that she's kooky and they really don't have to worry about it."

(Photo: AP/Rob Carr)