Tea Party Express hopes to repeat Alaska win in Delaware Senate primary

Holly Bailey
The Upshot

Buoyed by Joe Miller's surprise win in Alaska's Senate GOP primary, the Tea Party Express is hoping to take down another heavily favored Republican incumbent, this time in Delaware. The group plans to spend $250,000 on radio and TV ads to boost Christine O'Donnell, a largely unknown conservative activist who is vying against longtime GOP Rep. Mike Castle in the state's GOP Senate primary set for Sept. 14.

Castle, a moderate nine-term congressman and former governor, has been heavily favored to win Joe Biden's old Senate seat this fall. Recent polls had him leading Democrat Chris Coons by double digits. But O'Donnell, a former GOP operative, has attacked Castle as a "Republican in name only" — trashing his support for stem-cell research and tougher gun laws.

Ads in the works by the Tea Party Express reportedly echo those themes. In one of them, a narrator attacks Castle for voting "with Barack Obama 60 percent of the time" — even though Castle opposed most of the big-ticket agenda items that Republican activists have forcefully denounced, including the health-care bill and last year's stimulus package.

Still, in spite of the group's last-minute spending pledge, it's unclear that O'Donnell can make up enough ground to beat Castle. The GOP primary is closed — meaning independents can't vote — and new party registration ended weeks ago.

But Castle is taking no chances. On Thursday, his campaign began running ads and set up a website raising questions about O'Donnell's shaky finances. As the Delaware News Journal's Ginger Gibson has reported, O'Donnell owns more than $10,000 in federal taxes and has recently been using campaign funds to pay rent on her apartment. Asked about the debts, a Tea Party Express spokesman told the Hotline's Jeremy Jacobs the group was unaware of O'Donnell's financial problems before endorsing her in July.

State Republicans have taken aim at O'Donnell, too. "She's not a viable candidate for any office in the state of Delaware," state GOP chair Tom Ross told the AP's Phil Elliott. "She could not be elected dog catcher."

On Thursday, the Huffington Post's Sam Stein uncovered another unflattering story about O'Donnell: a clip from an appearance she made on one of a series of MTV specials called "Sex in the '90s." O'Donnell, who was then working on behalf of a group that promoted abstinence, went on the show to talk up the cause, but took it one step further, suggesting that masturbation is wrong, too.

"The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery. So you can't masturbate without lust," she said. "The reason that you don't tell [people] that masturbation is the answer to AIDS and all these other problems that come with sex outside of marriage is because again it is not addressing the issue. … You're just gonna create somebody who is, I was gonna say, toying with his sexuality. Pardon the pun."

(Photo of Castle by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)