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Palin endorses 'tea party' favorite in Delaware Senate race

The former Alaska governor says she is backing Christine O'Donnell over Rep. Michael Castle in the GOP primary.

September 09, 2010|By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau
(Olivier Douliery / MCT )

Christine O'Donnell's once-quixotic campaign against Rep. Michael N. Castle in Delaware's U.S. Senate race got another late boost with the endorsement Thursday of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Palin announced her support for O'Donnell during an appearance on Sean Hannity's syndicated radio program, five days before Delaware's Republican primary.

"She will support efforts for America's energy security, patient-centered healthcare reform, cutting government waste and letting the private sector thrive and prosper!" Palin later wrote on Facebook. "We can't afford 'more of the same' in Washington."

The endorsement by the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee comes weeks after the Tea Party Express organization committed to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of O'Donnell's low-budget effort to topple a Delaware political icon.

Through Aug. 25, Castle had more than $2.6 million on hand, compared with just $20,374 in O'Donnell's war chest, not including nearly $10,000 in debt.

There has not been reliable independent polling of the primary, though the Tea Party Express claimed its internal survey showed the race down to single digits.

That Castle, the state's lone congressman for 18 years and a former two-term governor, would struggle just to win his party's nomination was unthinkable even a month ago. The race was considered his to lose as soon as Beau Biden, the state attorney general, decided in January not to run for what was once his father's Senate seat.

But O'Donnell, the 2008 nominee against now-Vice President Biden, has emerged as a real threat by tapping in to conservative suspicion with the man she calls "King RINO" (Republican in Name Only).

"He's carrying the Obama-Reid-Pelosi water," she said in a recent interview, citing votes on issues such as a cap-and-trade program to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

She said her campaign drew inspiration from Joe Miller's surprise win over Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska last week, rallying supporters with the idea "that we are not in this race to come close. We are in this to win."

But Castle's campaign has said it wouldn't be caught off guard like Murkowski seemed to be, and in fact this week launched an ad attacking O'Donnell over unpaid income taxes and debt from her past campaigns.

The state Republican Party, meanwhile, has been relentlessly criticizing O'Donnell for weeks, warning that she is unelectable in November. On Thursday afternoon, the party filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging O'Donnell illegally coordinated campaign activity with the California-based Tea Party Express.

"We have the opportunity to take back what was Joe Biden's Senate seat and send a Republican to Washington," said Tom Ross, chairman of the Delaware Republican Party. "You have a candidate in Mike Castle who is extremely well-regarded, a former governor, that works extremely hard. … She doesn't have an organization. She doesn't have broad-based support here in Delaware."

A Rasmussen poll released this week found Castle leading likely Democratic nominee Chris Coons by 11 points. Coons, the New Castle County executive, lead O'Donnell by the same margin in the survey.

Palin has often endorsed underdog candidates this year, some of whom did go on to upset victories. But in other states she has favored establishment candidates, as she does with her support for former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte in Tuesday's New Hampshire Senate primary.

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