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What Christine O'Donnell's defeat of Mike Castle really says about the GOP and the 'tea party'

September 17, 2010 |  6:16 am

Delaware Republicans Christine O'Donnell and Mike Castle

Clearly the national media's political storyline -- annihilation of Democrats set for Nov. 2 midterm elections -- had run its course through much of the summer.

The news media -- and its audiences' insatiable appetites for anything to read or watch before the fall shows' premieres -- had clearly become bored by the torrent of political polls portending doom in seven weeks for the Real Good Talker's silly party-mates in Congress who disregarded a year of other polls saying JOBS were Job One for Washington and ran toward the electoral cliffs of healthcare.

At last week's White House news conference only one of 13 questions lobbed at Obama concerned the elections. Demonstrating an uncharacteristic lack of message discipline and planning, the president offered no real news and blabbed on for 76 interminable minutes, allowing reporters to poke and prod on all kinds of topics unconnected to what he really wanted to talk about. That was his stale, belated idea to throw $50 billion more at stimulating something. Which is DOA on Capitol Hill anyway.

Finally, in this week when First Lady Michelle Obama unfurled a....

...dramatic proposal to reform the menus of the nation's restaurants to include less popular but healthier items, the Delaware GOP Senate primary provided a delicious new offering for public consumption and regurgitation.

Christine O'Donnell, whose prior claim to fame was being pummeled two years ago by Joe "I've Been Doing This Since Barack Was in the Sixth Grade" Biden, upset Mike Castle, who used to be governor of arguably the most irrelevant state politically in America. But then, according to the usual ladder of political achievement, he moved down the Amtrak line to Washington for nine -- count 'em -- House terms as the state's lone representative.

After 12 straight statewide wins, Castle was such a GOP gimme that the vice president's son, heir apparent Beau, took a pass this year rather than risk running.

Castle may be incredulous. But O'Donnell's win was no surprise to anyone who saw her campaigning day-and-night in July among conservative bloggers and podcasters huddling at a national convention in Nevada. She preached the appealingly clearcut conservative back-to-our-roots line that has worked all year among party faithful from Utah to Florida to Pennsylvania and Alaska.

It's an ideal campaign contrast to one of the most liberal presidents and congresses in recent history and, not coincidentally, speaks to the metastasizing deficit fears that now rival terrorism as major concerns among so many Americans uncertain about tomorrow, let alone the future.

As with 2010's other 'tea party' winners, O'Donnell's talking points all over the garish Venetian resort and around her state dealt with fiscal conservatism, leaving the once ubiquitous and dangerously more divisive conservative social issues unspoken for an opportunistic change.Very happy Delaware Republican Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell on election night

Suddenly, this latest in a lengthening string of tea party upsets became proof to the media interviewing each other in the Washington political hothouse, that Republicans just possibly maybe perhaps could be killing each other off in preparation to maybe hopefully who knows snatch unlikely defeat from the jaws of certain victory come Nov. 2.

That result -- the product of less than 100,000 GOP votes, remember -- may well be true in Delaware, a state mis-spelled and named, of all things, for an early Viriginia governor, Lord De La Warr. However, you spell it, that place isn't exactly Wyoming in terms of Lincoln-like loyalty to GOP principles, having put up with commuter Biden for nearly two generations.

But as the astute Sean Trende notes over on the essential RealClearPolitics site, the voter fervor and status quo dissatisfaction that dumped old man Castle and likely saved one Senate seat there for Democrats, is the same solid fuel turnout booster that has positioned Republicans across the other 434 districts to possibly win the most House seats the party has owned in 64 years.

Interestingly, that fervor is not really anti-Obama or anti-Democrat. It's anti-rich-usually-old-gray-guys-in-matching-suits-who-think-they-know-best-for-real-Americans-far-away. They could be Democrats. They could be Republicans. Watching the childish games, lost money and wanton waste of time in Washington, who can tell the difference anymore? There are, to be honest, many on the Democratic left unhappy with their oblivious representatives in D.C.

Speaking of which, a new survey by Public Policy Polling Thursday found fully 57% of Republicans want Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. John Boehner tossed as GOP leaders if the party wins control of Congress.

As O'Donnell put it election night:

"The commonsense men and women of Delaware are tired of the same old coming out of Washington. They don't want more of the same. Well, we are not more of the same." (That sounds strikingly like the resonant rhetoric of another GOP woman running from outside the Beltway.)

For Washington types, this kind of grassroots disregard of the D.C. favorite is naturally a threat to their control. So like some pouting benched star quarterback, veteran Castle refuses to endorse newcomer O'Donnell because -- what? -- the defeat was personal, about him, not advancing the party? And involuntarily retiring Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski ponders a hopeless write-in effort to stay on the ballot after her primary defeat.

Strangely, it's Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele who seems to best get it there. He's been much criticized for his sloppy management and frequent trips to many places clearly not as important as the monument-strewn Capitol that reeks of entitlement. But perhaps those out-of-town voyages and daily contact with state party chairs give him some grassroots insights.

Looking at Castle's refusal, GOP frowns and capitol harumphing about Republican primary voters not making the correct choice, Steele told John King at CNN:

"I don't know if she can win until we try. How can you claim defeat before you attempt victory? This makes no sense. It makes no sense. So stop it. Stop it!"

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: Associated Press (Castle and O'Donnell); Rob Carr / Associated Press (O'Donnell on election night).