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Republican senators, Castle backers support O’Donnell campaign effort

Nearly a dozen Senate Republicans interviewed by The Hill on Wednesday said they would write checks for their party’s surprise Senate primary winner in Delaware, Christine O’Donnell.

“Already sent it to her this morning,” said Sen. Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissLive coverage: Georgia Senate runoffs Trump, Biden face new head-to-head contest in Georgia Ex-GOP senator from Georgia suffers mild stroke: report MORE (R-Ga.). “She’s the nominee, and I’m going to support the nominee.”

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There were some signs that the bitter primary between O’Donnell and Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) would divide Senate Republicans. Castle received support from the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which worried an O’Donnell win could turn a likely Republican pickup in the Senate into a Democratic hold.

But a large number of senators who had donated to Castle said they would donate to O’Donnell, including Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchHow President Biden can hit a home run Mellman: What happened after Ginsburg? Bottom line MORE (Utah), James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Top Republican: 'Outrageous' to extend National Guard deployment at Capitol Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal MORE (Okla.), Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziLummis adopts 'laser eyes' meme touting Bitcoin Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes With Senate at stake, Georgia is on all our minds MORE (Wyo.), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrRick Scott caught in middle of opposing GOP factions Bipartisan bill would ban lawmakers from buying, selling stocks Republicans, please save your party MORE (N.C.), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March MORE (Miss.), George LeMieux (Fla.) and Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyWhite House open to reforming war powers amid bipartisan push Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks National Sheriffs' Association backs Biden pick for key DOJ role MORE (Iowa), as well as Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats near pressure point on nixing filibuster  We need a voting rights workaround Biden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package MORE of Kentucky and Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona.

NRSC Chairman John CornynJohn CornynSenate holds longest vote in history as Democrats scramble to save relief bill Biden gets involved to help break Senate logjam Overnight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels MORE (Texas) also authorized a $42,000 check from the NRSC to O’Donnell Wednesday morning and said he has already reached out to her as well as to Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), who backed her candidacy.

A handful of Castle supporters said they would not support O’Donnell or had not made up their mind.

Sen. George Voinovich, a centrist Republican from Ohio who is retiring, offered the strongest view: “I have no intention to donate to Christine O’Donnell,” he said.

When asked why, Voinovich replied, “I have nothing more to say.”

“I’m probably going to focus all of my resources on New Hampshire,” said Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.), who is also retiring.

“I don’t know her at all,” Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate rejects Sanders minimum wage hike Murkowski votes with Senate panel to advance Haaland nomination OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior reverses Trump policy that it says restricted science | Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination | Republicans press Biden environment nominee on Obama-era policy MORE (Maine) said of O’Donnell. “I was a strong supporter of Mike Castle, and I’m disappointed he did not prevail. This came as such a surprise to me. I really don’t know her yet.”

Political analysts said O’Donnell’s victory turned a likely Republican pickup into a Senate hold. O’Donnell and Democrat Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsSenate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote The eight Democrats who voted 'no' on minimum wage Justice Democrats call moderates' votes against minimum wage hike 'unconscionable' MORE are seeking to win Vice President Joe Biden’s former Senate seat, and some Republicans doubt O’Donnell can win in a general election in a blue state where she will need to appeal to independent and Democratic voters.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGraham: Trump can make GOP bigger, stronger, or he 'could destroy it' Former Trump Defense chief Esper to join McCain Institute We need an independent 1/6 commission that the whole country can have confidence in MORE (Ariz.), the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, spent much of 2009 privately urging Castle to run for the Senate, but expressed optimism Wednesday for O’Donnell’s chances.

“Of course I’m sorry that he lost, but I respect the decision of the voters and I certainly support the nominee,” McCain said.

Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.), whose own Tea Party-based upset win last winter cost Democrats their filibuster-proof majority, said he would consider a request to campaign with O’Donnell.

“I’ve always felt that we needed a big tent, an inclusive party,” said Brown. “The fact that she won is a credit to her and her [campaign]. I’m going to be supporting her.”

Hatch, who may face a primary challenge himself in 2012, said: “She’s our candidate, and she won it fair and square.”

He said he was surprised she defeated Castle, “but I have a high opinion of her. I wouldn’t write her off. She came on like a house on fire, and people may really take to her.”

Still, while many Republican senators pledged to support O’Donnell, few on Wednesday disagreed with the conventional wisdom that O’Donnell’s upset has imperiled the party’s chances for retaking the Senate.

“At first glance, it does appear that the seat will be harder to win,” said Wicker. “But I’m trying to continue to be positive about it. We’re going to have to play the hand we’ve now been dealt by the voters.”

“The conventional wisdom was that Mike Castle was seen as a shoo-in,” Kyl agreed. “Obviously, it will not be as easy for Christine O’Donnell. I’m just assuming that’s true; I haven’t seen poll results.”

Other Republicans said opposition to O’Donnell from state and national leaders could actually be an advantage, given voters’ anger and dissatisfaction with incumbents this year.

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O’Donnell was repeatedly and harshly criticized by the Delaware GOP as well as the NRSC during the primary campaign.

“In a way, that sort of thing fortifies her anti-establishment credentials,” said Inhofe. “That could turn around and backfire on them.”

“The goal is to bring people to Washington who want to change Washington,” added LeMieux.