The Tea Party Express, which spent some $600,000 on Alaska Republican Joe Miller's primary challenge to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), says it's preparing to do the same on behalf of Christine O'Donnell (R) in Delaware.
O'Donnell is challenging Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) from the right in the state's Sept. 14 Senate primary, but she has yet to capture the same kind of attention from conservative activists as other Tea Party-backed candidates have this cycle.
Tea Party Express spokesman Levi Russell said Monday that his organization is already cutting TV and radio ads in Delaware and expects to be on the air by the end of the week. Russell said he hopes to match the support the group offered in GOP primaries in Utah, Nevada and Alaska this year.
This may not be the most strategic spending on behalf of the Tea Party Express. Delaware ain't Alaska or Utah or Nevada. Alaska and Utah are about as Republican as you get, and Nevada isn't too far behind. The last time Delaware voted for a Republican presidential contender was 1988. Delaware is a territory where centrism is a key political qualifier for Republican aspirants to statewide office.
Do you know who Mike Castle would be a lot more conservative than? Democratic nominee Chris Coons. Castle has led Coons in polls taken throughout the year with huge margins.
O'Donnell? Most polls have shown her double digits behind Coons.
There's definitely a place for O'Donnell in Delaware Republican politics, but gambling on her candidacy may be too big a risk for Republicans in 2010. With Castle, this seat could be close to a guaranteed pickup. With O'Donnell, this race would definitely lean heavily in the favor of Democrats. If Republicans were going into this election with close to fifty seats, it would be one thing to think about gambling in Delaware. But right now Republicans have a long, long way to go to 51 seats. They are in no position to turn their backs on a relatively safe candidate.
(One wrinkle: Erick Erickson claims that Castle has made a deal to switch to the Democratic party once he gains the Senate seat and vacate this seat in favor of Beau Biden. He says that Delaware "party regulars" have told him this. If this deal has been made, these "regulars" have a responsibility to tell this to the world---and not just be whispering this to Erickson. If this deal is a reality, the Tea Party Express and Republicans nationwide would be well within their rights to work as hard as possible to ensure Castle's defeat in the primary. Otherwise, they might be better off saving their money and spending it to help tip a general election race---like Angle's in Nevada---the Republicans' way.)
UPDATE: In response to some comments and a few emails, a few points. I'm, shall we say, far from convinced that the parenthetical wrinkle above is a completely credible one. More shocking things have happened, but I'm still pretty skeptical. But I thought I should at least acknowledge that the rumor is there, since some anti-Castle activists talk about it now and then.
On accusations that Castle is a RINO, etc.: It's a free country, and the Republicans of Delaware can support whomever they like for senator. But it should be noted that Castle's American Conservative Union lifetime rating of 52 (in 2009, it was 56) does not make him the least "conservative" Republican in Congress. His score is ahead of that of both of the Republican Maine senators. You can ask Mitch McConnell---you can even ask Jim DeMint---if he's glad to have their votes in the Senate. This "progressive" rating system of members of Congress also finds that Mike Castle is not the most "progressive" Republican in the House. And he's most likely to vote with Republicans from other moderate districts---not the Democratic leadership.