GOP leaders scramble to mend fences after Delaware upset

Republican leaders scrambled Wednesday to unify their party in the wake of a nasty GOP primary in Delaware that knocked Rep. Mike Castle, their top recruit, out of the race.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) told The Hill on Wednesday that he will contribute campaign funds to Christine O’Donnell, who in narrowly defeating Castle has given Democrats the upper hand in the general election.

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“I’m going to support the nominee and contribute to the nominee,” McConnell said in a brief interview.
McConnell downplayed the notion that contentious GOP primaries have fractured his party.

“Primary season is over and we’re ready to go,” he said.

In a statement Wednesday morning, McConnell called on Republicans to focus on “stopping the damage caused by Washington over the past two years.”

O’Donnell’s victory came despite opposition from the state and national Republican leadership.

Polls suggested Castle would defeat Democrat Chris Coons in November, but that O’Donnell would lose in the general election. The Cook Political Report on Wednesday shifted the seat from “likely Republican” to “likely Democrat.”

Democrats have expressed glee with O’Donnell’s win, calling it a political gift. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs noted that a state Republican official had said O’Donnell couldn’t be elected dog-catcher, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the result would help her party.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), who did not offer a statement Tuesday night reacting to O’Donnell’s surprise win, on Wednesday pledged financial support for her.

Cornyn announced the campaign committee would send O’Donnell a $42,000 check on Wednesday.

“Let there be no mistake: The National Republican Senatorial Committee — and I personally as the committee’s chairman — strongly stand by all of our Republican nominees, including Christine O’Donnell in Delaware,” Cornyn said in a statement.

The pledges of support mark a dramatic turnaround by GOP leaders who actively opposed O’Donnell’s candidacy.

The race, however, left a bitter taste with Castle. Since losing, he has refused to endorse O’Donnell in the general election and his campaign has questioned O’Donnell’s honesty and integrity.

O’Donnell rebuked party leaders for trying to sink her candidacy but held out hope for reconciliation.

“It’s a shame that the Republican Party has — had to resort to Republican cannibalism, because we have the winning principles and I’m hoping that come tomorrow we can kiss and make up and get to the business of winning this seat in the general election,” she said.

O’Donnell’s surprise victory left Republican leaders arguing among themselves over her electability.

Karl Rove, who served as senior political adviser to President George W. Bush, suggested in a television interview Tuesday that O’Donnell could not win the general election.

On Wednesday, Rove questioned O’Donnell’s character and background, pointing to her failure to pay taxes, a foreclosure on her home and questions about her educational credentials.

Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), a possible presidential candidate in 2012, defended her, insisting that O’Donnell is “electable” and warning of liberal-led efforts to discredit her.

“Christine donnell won in Delaware. She got more votes in the primary. The elite media wants to declare her unelectable — nonsense — she won,” Gingrich posted on his Twitter account. “There will be an all out effort to discredit christine odonnell in delaware just as there was to discredit sharon angle [sic] in nevada.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), another potential 2012 candidate, has endorsed O’Donnell. Romney previously donated to Castle’s campaign.

McConnell said Wednesday that the primaries showed that GOP voter turnout and enthusiasm is “off the charts.”

“Now that the primaries are over, the flood of enthusiasm is all pointed in the same direction with the same focus,” he said.

Senate Republican leaders have watched several of their favored candidates go down in flames in Republican primaries this year.

In addition to Castle, Sen. Bob Bennett (R) in Utah, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) in Alaska, Secretary of State Trey Grayson in Kentucky, Jane Norton in Colorado, former state party Chairwoman Sue Lowden in Nevada and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist all failed to appeal to GOP primary voters.

Some of these primaries have left bad blood between the candidates.

Murkowski has not endorsed Joe Miller, the GOP Senate candidate in Alaska, and is even mulling an independent bid as a write-in candidate.

The same has been true in primaries where the establishment-backed candidate prevailed.

J.D. Hayworth, who ran a hard-fought campaign against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), has yet to publicly back his former opponent.

Several of these primary races have created divisions between Republicans in Washington, most notably between party leaders and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), chairman of the conservative Senate Steering Committee.

It has also pitted GOP leaders against former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R).


DeMint and Palin endorsed O’Donnell last week, despite the strong opposition of GOP leaders to her campaign.

Senate GOP aides have privately criticized DeMint for helping to sink the Republican candidate they considered most electable in Delaware.

DeMint said Castle would have done little to advance the principles of limited government if elected to the Senate.

“Mike’s not going to vote on many things with us anyway,” DeMint told reporters. “Mike supports the bailouts, the stimulus, financial reform.

“I came in [to the Senate] with 55 Republican senators, a large majority in the House and a Republican in the White House, and what I hear all across the country is we didn’t do what we said we were going to do.

“When we have a few who vote with the Obama agenda, it defines the whole Republican Party,” he said.

Senate Republicans were less critical of Palin.

McCain, who helped launch Palin to national prominence during the 2008 presidential campaign, said O’Donnell’s win underlines the importance of turning out base GOP voters.

He acknowledged that Palin has had an impact on races across the country.

“She always has an impact and it’s almost always usually beneficial,” he said.

Palin endorsed McCain over Hayworth earlier this year.
 
Jordan Fabian contributed to this report

This story was first posted at 12:15 p.m. and updated at 9:10 p.m.