September 15th, 2010
08:10 PM ET

As simple as 1, 2, 3 : How O’Donnell won in Delaware

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

(CNN) - There she was: Beaming, waving, jumping through interviews, and calling to her followers, “Come on, kids, let’s go join the Senate!” Well, not quite, but the jubilation from Christine O’Donnell and her followers Wednesday was somewhat like what one sees when a guy from the stands takes the half-time, half court shot and wins a million bucks.

Political pundits have staggered around all day trying to explain the unexplainable; how a woman who seemed destined to be a perpetual also-ran, is now the Republican candidate for one of Delaware’s U.S. Senate seats.

I think she did it through a simple equation: Right face, right place, right kind of race.

Let's start with the “right face.” This was her third campaign for the Senate, so the voters of Delaware knew her. She had the imprimatur of a newcomer, but the recognition factor of someone you run into in the grocery store. She had a pleasant smile, and presented her much publicized financial problems as a common struggle in a hard economy; something that built her character, rather than exposed a weakness in it.

"And you know it's not always about power,” she said in the hubbub after the vote, laying out the kind of grass roots beliefs that drive her faithful fans, “It's about principles and there's a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I think the voters are craving candidates who will stand for something." In short, she looked and acted like a fresh face for Washington, and right now that is selling.

Right place? Delaware is one of the smallest states in terms of land and population, so a lightly funded campaign like hers could still reach all the available voters. Plus this was a closed primary. Only Republicans could play in this vote and those pesky independents could not horn in and upset the balance.

But Delaware was also symbolically important. Her base, staunch conservatives, doesn’t like Democrats, and this was fight for Vice President Joe Biden's old seat. They are also angry at status quo Republicans, and her opponent, Rep. Mike Castle, was the very poster child for a long-term, moderate congressman. So O’Donnell had twin engines powering the fury of Delaware conservatives to get out and vote.

And the right political race? She played the “outsider” role beautifully and she had help.

The Republican Party helped because they made it clear they did not want her. Democrats helped because they kept taking pot shots at the Tea Party movement. And the Tea Party Express helped: Showing up in the 11th hour when she was down to her last $20,000 in her campaign war chest and spending around $200,000 to help her. They sent out fliers and rallied volunteers. And O'Donnell herself told ABC's “Good Morning America” that the endorsement from Sarah Palin was a decisive factor for voters.

"When Governor Palin stood up and so boldly made a statement that she supported me it allowed them to get past the politics of personal destruction to look at the message and look at the fact that I wanted to make this race about the issue - how we're going to get jobs back in Delaware.”

Voting trends, anti-incumbency fever, all of that suggests this equation would have failed just a few years ago, and I suspect it might not work even a few years down the line. But right here, right now, it was as easy as one, two, three to produce a primary winner.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Raw Politics • Tom Foreman
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Kim

    She wants Hillary Clinton's support. Where does she stand on the issues and wish she'd do a serious interview.

    September 15, 2010 at 10:05 pm |
  2. Annie Kate

    The GOP rebuttal of her probably helped her campaign a great deal – here was someone ready to roll up her sleeves and get to work and there was the GOP who for the past 2 years has done everything they could to obstruct the progress of legislation for much needed changes in the country. Right place, right time, and right face helped but the GOP seems to have helped a lot as well – I'm sure much to their chagrin.

    September 15, 2010 at 9:19 pm |