Delaware general election will be a test for the Tea Party

The Tea Party shook up Delaware’s Republican primaries, but the general election could prove a tougher challenge for its grassroots activists.

Democrats in the state have a 100,000-voter registration advantage over the GOP.

Delaware is being cited as an example of the Tea Party’s growing influence because its supporters were able to upend expectations and help outsider candidates win House and Senate nominations.

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But both chambers of the State Legislature are controlled by Democrats, as is the governor’s mansion and both Senate seats. Rep. Mike Castle, who lost to conservative Christine O’Donnell in the GOP Senate primary, is the only Republican member of the state’s three-man congressional delegation.

House nominee Glen Urquhart (R) said his success in the primary was due to his courting social and fiscal conservatives. He said he doesn’t want to deviate from that strategy.

“That’s who I am,” he told The Hill.

“People are concerned about truth — they’ve had it with career politicians BS-ing them,” Urquhart continued. “So when I was asked, ‘How do you stand on the right to life?’ I said, ‘My faith tells me that human life is precious and it begins at conception. … Government can’t take away the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ ”

He claims the state Republican Party has been “taken over” by new activists and which he said will help its chances in November. “It’s not a hostile takeover, it’s an incredible injection of new energy,” he said.

“We have an incredible opportunity now with all the foot soldiers that the party’s always wanted to have; now we’ve got to make sure the generals and the colonels are all lined up,” he said. “We’re going to move forward because we agree on 80 or 90 percent of all the issues.”

But Republican strategists admit Urquhart faces an uphill climb against Democratic nominee John Carney, in part because O’Donnell isn’t going to generate crossover appeal at the top of the ticket. About a quarter of voters in Delaware are unaffiliated with either party — a Republican candidate needs to win a majority of those in order to win a general election.

One Democratic strategist called Urquhart “a male version of Christine O’Donnell” who won’t be able to appeal to independents and conservative Democrats.

Urquhart doesn’t reject the comparison with O’Donnell. “I support the values of Tea Party folks — we want to restore liberty,” he said. “Liberty is at the core of my family’s story.”

He calls Carney, a former lieutenant governor, a “nice guy” and says he wants the race to be about principles, not personality. But he’s quick to point to what he calls the Democrat’s “baggage.”

“When the state’s psychiatric hospital patients were being abused by felons, [Carney] kept quiet. When the water was being poisoned in Delaware City, [Carney] kept quiet,” the Republican said. “How can anybody believe that you’re not going to stay quiet for Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer when they’ve delivered $1.2 billion of [agriculture subsidies]?

“He spent his life as a career politician,” Urquhart added. “John hasn’t even been able to create his own job.”
Carney’s camp said Delaware voters wouldn’t respond well to “personal attacks.”

“Clearly, Glen Urquhart doesn’t know our state very well,” Albert Shields, a spokesman for Carney, said in a statement. “Delawareans have always been wary of candidates who make negative personal attacks and baseless claims to try to win elections.”

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For his part, Urquhart has gotten into trouble for making controversial statements.

Democrats circulated a video in which he suggests church-state separation is a Nazi idea, and says, “So the next time your liberal friends talk about separation of church and state, ask them why they’re Nazis.”

He had to repeatedly apologize for making the remark.

Polls have shown Carney with a solid double-digit lead over Urquhart.

Russell Berman contributed to this report.