Saturday, February 13, 2016

Does O'Donnell really want Delaware's Senate seat?

How the race looks from suburban Wilmington

Does O'Donnell really want Delaware's Senate seat?


Christine O'Donnell, the conservative New Jersey transplant who blew away U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle and grabbed the Republican nomination for the US Senate in November's election, is raising piles of money from a national fan base of people angry at Obama and Washington.

She'll have to spend that money on something more than fancy consultants and Philadelphia TV ads - if she really wants the seat.

O'Donnell is a suburban New Jersey native, a Catholic convert and abortion opponent. You'd think that would have given her at least a shot in suburban Wilmington, the state's population center, with its prosperous Irish-Italian-Polish-descended communities.

But northern Republicans voted for Castle in the primary. O'Donnell's emotional, take-back-our-country, throw-the-bums out approach appealed to Delaware's Evangelical-influenced downstate below the C&D Canal: south New Castle County, Dover with its big military vote, Sussex County with its Shore retirees and nonunion farm, factory and service workers.

You'd think O'Donnell's first mission would be to reach out, past Castle and the GOP establishment who treated her like an unemployed rabble-rouser, to the GOP soldiers, employees of DuPont and the banks, professionals and managers, in suburban Wilmington, the state's population center and a Republican bastion since the Civil War.

It's not happening, so far. "I give her credit for winning," a GOP member of the state legislature told me. "But right now, if my choices are between the bad path Washington is taking, or her, that's a tough choice." He's willing to be convinced, but no one's trying to convince him: "I'll wait and see." A second elected Republican agreed: "It's not happening," he said, re O'Donnell's outreach.

"The pro-life people up here were helping (Glenn) Urquhart," the insurgent who won the GOP nomination for Delaware's lone Congressional seat, a third source, the head of a suburban Republican club told me. "But nobody was able to get past the people O'Donnell brought in to run her campaign. Why aren't we all jumping on this wave? The door's open. Let's go!"

The one campaign appearance O'Donnell has announced in northern Delaware since her primary victory last week was at the all-nominees forum at the Jewish Community Center on Garden of Eden Road, a place liberal enough that board activists got the resident Boy Scout Troop kicked out a few years back because of the Scouts' restrictive policy against homosexuals. But besides social liberals, JCC is patronized by a number of Delaware political donors, some of whom feel strongly about Israel, a cause championed by O'Donnell's Evangelical allies.

Will O'Donnell extend her outreach to local activists who can deliver votes, not just bucks? Will she engage in real discussion on what she'd do about the weak economy, the fat deficit, the Afghanistan war, Social Security, Medicare, immigrants?  "I think they are just counting money at this point," said the state legislator, laughing.

Maybe that's what Christine O'Donnell is really about: attracting money from national donors, and establishing herself as a brand. Like Sarah Palin, O'Donnell doesn't need to win her race, if she can parlay her past triumph into a comfortable life as a celebrity activist. If she's serious, we'll see her reaching out, mending fences, and taking concrete positions, soon. The election is less than six weeks away.

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About this blog

PhillyDeals posts interviews, drafts and updates that Joseph N. DiStefano writes alongside his Sunday and Monday columns and ongoing articles about Philadelphia-area business.

DiStefano studied economics, history and a little engineering at Penn. He taught writing and research at St. Joe’s. He has written for the Inquirer since 1989, except when he left a few times to work at Bloomberg and elsewhere. He wrote the book Comcasted, and raised six kids with his wife, who is a saint.

Reach Joseph N. at, 215.854.5194, @PhillyJoeD. Read his blog posts at and his Inquirer columns at Bloomberg posts his items at NH BLG_PHILLYDEAL.

Reach Joseph N. at or 215 854 5194.

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