Republicans line up to back O'Donnell

Christine O'Donnell, a "tea party"-backed insurgent candidate, stunned the GOP establishment by beating nine-term Rep. Mike Castle for the Delaware Senate nomination.
By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 15, 2010; 4:02 PM

With no other choice, Republicans in Congress are lining up behind upstart Delaware Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell, even as some are skeptical of her ability to win and her broader impact on the party.

Despite his committee's opposition to her candidacy in favor of Rep. Mike Castle, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, announced Wednesday morning he would back O'Donnell's campaign. His committee donated $42,000 to her, the maximum legal amount.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who had planned to host a fundraiser in Tennessee for Castle next week, says he will instead soon donate to O'Donnell's campaign. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) both a party leader in the Senate and a potential 2012 candidate, also said he supported O'Donnell.

"I categorically reject that Christine O'Donnell cannot win in Delaware. This is a whole new world; we elected a Republican member of the Senate from Massachusetts," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the No. 3 Republican in the House.

Cornyn, in a statement, would not say how much money or time his committee would put into Delaware beyond the initial donation. Polls have shown O'Donnell is a decided underdog to New Castle County executive Chris Coons, who had trailed Castle for months in polls. And Republicans, who had considered Delaware a state that would help them gain a majority in the Senate, could decide to fund campaigns in other states instead of Delaware if they view O'Donnell as a candidate who cannot win.

Retiring Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), who is a conservative member but has occasionally joined with Democrats on key issues, said the race reflected local dynamics more than any national message, but said "there needs to be a more moderate [Republican] voice speaking about the fact that this is a big country with a lot of diverse opinions."

"We Republicans have different strains in us, like the Democrats, and what we should be doing is trying to unite on what those common strains are. That's what we should be doing if we're trying to be successful in, say, electing a Republican president next time around," Voinovich said.

But Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), the conservative who has endorsed several successful "tea party" candidates, including O'Donnell, dismissed such a view.

"Mike's not going to vote with us on many things," said Demint of Castle, who is one of the most liberal Republicans in Congress but voted against many proposals supported by Obama in Congress. "When we have a few who vote with the Obama agenda, it defines us all as Republicans. What's going to happen now, win or lose, we are fighting for the right cause."

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