GOP primaries

GOP primaries

Delaware Senate contest will hinge on turnout

WILMINGTON, Del. -- For supporters of Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), all eyes will be on Delaware's New Castle County Tuesday where the level of turnout in the state's contested GOP Senate primary could make or break the longtime congressman.

New Castle County houses the urban population centers of Delaware. It contains Newark and Wilmington, the state's largest city. 

The Castle campaign is hoping for solid turnout Tuesday in and around Wilmington to help the centrist congressman offset more conservative primary-goers in the southern part of the state who may be backing Tea Party favorite Christine O'Donnell. 

O'Donnell is banking on support from an energized conservative base to help her to an upset Tuesday. 

The best estimates of observers in the state put turnout in Tuesday's closed Republican primary around 40,000 voters. For Tea Party-backed Christine O'Donnell, the lower the turnout, the better on Tuesday. 

At least 70 Castle volunteers were campaigning door-to-door Sunday, many aimed at drumming up turnout among Castle-friendly Republicans in the northern part of the state.    

Near Wilmington, it's not tough to see that the area is Castle's base. Castle for Senate billboards and signs are numerous in Wilmington and just outside of the downtown area, while O'Donnell signs are hard to come by.

At least one small O'Donnell for Senate sign was spotted alongside Route 202, close to downtown Wilmington. It stood in the shadow of a much larger Castle sign and a bright red campaign sign for Glen Urquhart, the conservative challenger running in the primary for Delaware's at-large House seat. 

O'Donnell is banking on turnout from the state's two counties just to the South of New Castle--Kent and Sussex counties.

The Tea Party Express has a phone bank set up in-state to make GOTV calls on O'Donnell's behalf and the group is coordinating an effort with supporters from out of state to phone Delaware voters ahead of Tuesday.


NRA backs Tea Party candidate in Delaware

The National Rifle Association endorsed conservative commentator Christine O'Donnell Friday in Delaware's Republican Senate primary. The Tea Party-backed O'Donnell is looking to upset Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) on Tuesday.

The NRA's Political Victory Fund cited O'Donnell's "commitment to preserving the Second Amendment" in its endorsement of her Friday.

“Christine O’Donnell will be a strong voice in fighting ongoing efforts by anti-gun politicians to dismantle the Second Amendment,” chairman of the NRA's Political Victory Fund Chris Cox said in a statement. “We ask all Delaware gun-owners and hunters to vote for Christine O’Donnell in the U.S. Senate Republican primary on September 14th.”

The NRA's endorsement made no mention of Castle, but the longtime congressman earns an "F" from the gun lobby for his voting record. 

The NRA backing comes as Castle and O'Donnell are in a battle of last-minute "conservative" endorsements, which is at least one metric where O'Donnell seems to have come out on top over the past two days. 

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin officially backed O'Donnell Thursday, while Castle's campaign touted in-state endorsements from former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont (R) and former Judge Bill Lee, who ran for governor in 2008. 


O'Donnell says Palin backing proves she can win primary

Tea Party-backed Christine O'Donnell said Thursday a late endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) proves that her campaign has the momentum it needs to upset Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) in the state's GOP Senate primary Tuesday. 

"Something really special is going on here in Delaware," O'Donnell told The Hill late Thursday. "This just increases the excitement around our campaign right now and that momentum will carry us through."

O'Donnell said she was at a local restaurant talking to voters when she received a text message alerting her of Palin's endorsement. The former Alaska governor announced her backing of O'Donnell on conservative talk-show host Sean Hannity's radio show Thursday. 

"She stood up against the establishment just like I have in Delaware and she blazed a trail for insurgent candidates," O'Donnell said. 

Palin later posted the endorsement of O'Donnell on her Facebook page. "Please support Christine O’Donnell in Delaware," Palin wrote. "She will support efforts for America’s energy security, patient-centered health care reform, cutting government waste, and letting the private sector thrive and prosper!"

The O'Donnell campaign did not know the endorsement was coming. 

The candidate said Palin's backing comes amid "growing frustration with the tactics" of the Castle campaign and the Delaware Republican Party.

The state GOP filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission Thursday alleging illegal coordination between the Tea Party Express and the O'Donnell campaign. O'Donnell declined to comment on the complaint. 

Castle's campaign dismissed Palin's backing and touted his own endorsements Thursday. 

"Tuesday's primary will be decided by grassroots Republican voters here in Delaware, not out-of-state interest groups who are working to control the outcome," Castle spokeswoman Kate Dickens said in a statement. "Mike Castle has overwhelming support from respected conservative Delawareans, including former Gov. Pete duPont and Judge Bill Lee, who know that Castle is the true fiscal conservative and the only candidate who can win this seat for Republicans in November."


Delaware GOP alleges coordination between Tea Party Express and O'Donnell campaign

The Republican Party of Delaware filed a complaint Thursday with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging illegal coordination between the Tea Party Express and the Senate campaign of Christine O'Donnell. 

O'Donnell is challenging Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) in the state's Republican Senate primary, set for next Tuesday. 

The Tea Party Express has been running radio and TV ads supporting O'Donnell, and the complaint alleges the group has coordinated with the O'Donnell campaign on its paid communications in violation of federal election law. 

The complaint cites an appearance by O'Donnell at a Tea Party Express rally and a radiothon that the group is planning for the candidate. O'Donnell is expected to speak during that event as well. 

The complaint also accuses the O'Donnell campaign of accepting contributions from the Tea Party Express is excess of legal limits. 

"Christine O'Donnell needs to immediately call upon her third party supporters to cease and desist this illegal behavior," Delaware GOP Chairman Tom Ross said in a statement. "This type of behavior has no place in our political process, and O'Donnell should denounce these illegal ads."

The state Republican Party has asked the FEC to expedite the case. An FEC spokesperson wouldn't comment directly on the complaint but suggested action on the matter before Tuesday's primary "would be a very quick turnaround."

No official response yet from the Tea Party Express or the O'Donnell campaign.


Two chances for Tea Party on Tuesday

Two states could have Tea Party upsets on Tuesday, and observers are torn as to which is the more likely scenario.

In New Hampshire, Republican Senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne is trying to ride the wave of Tea Party upsets by casting his campaign in the mold of come-from-behind winners Joe Miller in Alaska and Sharron Angle in Nevada.

In Delaware, Tea Party-backed Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell got a boost Thursday when former Gov. Sarah Palin (R) endorsed her.

O’Donnell is challenging party-backed Rep. Mike Castle in the Republican primary, and Palin’s blessing could give her the jolt she needs.

Palin also has something at stake in New Hampshire, where she's backing Kelly Ayotte in the Senate primary.

Most of the attention has been focused on Delaware, but some observers say New Hampshire may have the race to watch Tuesday. 

Lamontagne faces two better-known and better-funded Republicans in the Senate primary in the form of Ayotte and self-funded Bill Binnie. But Ayotte and Binnie have been spending their cash ripping each other to shreds on the airwaves, and observers say Lamontagne has been the short-term beneficiary.

"I think people understand that these races are national in scope and we need to elect true conservatives," Lamontagne told The Hill. "That's why you've seen the enthusiasm building."

Businessman Jim Bender is also self-funding his campaign, and while most don't believe he has a real shot of winning, he could factor into the eventual outcome, depending on the share of the vote he ends up with.

Lamontagne is talking up his support from conservative talk-radio host Laura Ingraham, whom he called "a strong supporter of our campaign who laid out the case on her show as to why Sarah Palin made the wrong choice in this primary."

The candidate also highlighted support from RedState's Erick Erickson, who questioned on his blog Wednesday why money and energy was focused on O'Donnell in Delaware and not Lamontagne in New Hampshire.

Ayotte certainly has some conservative backing. Aside from Palin, she was endorsed by the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List and has the support of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). 

Still, University of New Hampshire pollster Andy Smith said a Lamontagne upset is well within the realm of possibility. During Lamontagne's 1996 run for governor he surged from more than 20 points back before the primary to capture the nomination.

A Lamontagne adviser says the campaign has no plans to go negative ahead of Tuesday —apparently seeing the negative between Ayotte and Binnie as the candidate's best shot.

As for support from the Tea Party Express, which has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into GOP primaries in Nevada, Colorado and Alaska this cycle, it won't be forthcoming.

Spokesman Levi Russell told The Hill that his group is focused squarely on Delaware ahead of Sept. 14 and won't spend any resources in New Hampshire.

"It's definitely on our radar," Russell said of New Hampshire's Senate primary. "But we are still focused on Delaware."


Rep. Castle ad goes after opponent's finances

Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) is out with an ad attacking his primary opponent, conservative commentator Christine O'Donnell, a week out from the state's Republican primary.

The 30-second spot focuses on issues surrounding O'Donnell's finances, which have made headlines over the past week as national attention has focused on the GOP contest.

The ad claims O'Donnell "didn't pay thousands in income taxes, had to be sued by a university for thousands in unpaid bills" and "defaulted on her mortgage." The ad also references a New York Times story from the end of last week that featured former O'Donnell aides accusing the candidate of not paying her vendors and staff. 


Castle appears determined to not make the same mistake Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) did ahead of her Republican primary with Joe Miller. Murkowski has been roundly criticized for not taking Miller seriously enough and not using her cash advantage to hit Miller with TV ads.  

The Tea Party Express, meanwhile, remains fully committed to the O'Donnell effort, holding a news conference in Wilmington Tuesday morning to outline its final push ahead of the primary.

Spokesman Levi Russell said the group is on track to spend at least $250,000 on TV and radio ads and announced plans for a last-minute direct mail campaign. Anti-Castle mailers are expected to hit mailboxes just before the September 14 primary. 

"Castle is terrified to engage [O'Donnell] on the issues because of his own liberal record," Russell said. "We're going to be doing everything we can to highlight that."

The Tea Party Express also has a rally planned for Wednesday and is launching a "home phone bank" effort for O'Donnell employing it's membership across the country to make calls on her behalf. 


Gov. Christie backs Castle in Delaware Senate race

The governor of New Jersey is weighing in on Delaware's Republican Senate primary, backing Rep. Mike Castle (Del.), who is facing a challenge from the right in the form of conservative commentator Christine O'Donnell.

"Mike understands that our nation's most urgent priority is the economy and that the path to restoring America's prosperity requires making tough, responsible decisions," Chris Christie said Thursday. "He is the strong voice that the people of Delaware need in the Senate to get our fiscal house back in order and get Americans back to work."

It's certainly notable that Christie, who has gained popularity among conservatives nationwide due to the way he has tackled New Jersey's budget woes and taken on the state's labor unions, has thrown his support behind Castle.

Christie announced his backing of Castle on Thursday night after an event at the University of Delaware, where Christie is an alumnus.

The Delaware Republican appears to be taking the challenge from O'Donnell a bit more seriously than he was just last week.

With the Tea Party Express now spending in the state and boasting internal poll numbers that claim the race is within points, the Castle camp is prepared to go negative on O'Donnell ahead of the Sept. 14 primary.

The Tea Party Express, which played a major role in Joe Miller's victory in Alaska over Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), released its first TV ad against Castle on Thursday.

The ad, which labels Castle "one of the most liberal Republicans in Congress," will go up on the airwaves early next week.