Christine O'Donnell fights back at Values Voter Summit

The tea party's latest darling, Delaware GOP Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, aligned herself squarely with the Republican Party's social conservative base Friday in her first national appearance since her upset primary victory. (Sept. 17)
By Felicia Sonmez and Paul Farhi
Saturday, September 18, 2010

It's unclear whether Christine O'Donnell will be coming to Washington for the long haul. But on Friday afternoon, social conservatives meeting in the nation's capital welcomed her as their ascendant star.

Pick your metaphor: O'Donnell, the winner of the Delaware Republican Senate primary and a darling of the "tea party" movement, was the rookie of the year, the ingénue sensation and the It Girl of the Values Voter Summit, the Family Research Council's annual gathering of roughly 2,000 social conservatives from across the country.

Speaking at the end of a long line of national Republican luminaries, including former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, O'Donnell electrified a ballroom of activists with a message aimed squarely at her critics -- both inside and outside the GOP establishment.

"They're trying to say we're taking over this party or that campaign," O'Donnell said to a raucous reception. "They don't get it. We're not trying to take back our country. We are our country."

The Values Voter crowd, a collection of antiabortion activists, anti-same-sex marriage advocates and Christian conservatives, has been a key constituency for Republican candidates on the national stage, propelling the likes of Huckabee and Romney.

O'Donnell followed other social conservative stars including Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), stealing the show from better-known party leaders.

The enthusiasm with which O'Donnell was greeted Friday afternoon stood in stark contrast to the dour assessments of her electoral viability, even after her stunning upset of establishment Rep. Mike Castle (R).

O'Donnell has been attacked from within her own party as an extremist gadfly out of touch with the generally moderate to liberal Delaware electorate.

Former White House adviser Karl Rove dismissed O'Donnell the night of her win, telling Fox News's Sean Hannity that "there were a lot of nutty things she has been saying that don't add up."

You wouldn't know it from her appearance Friday at Washington's Omni Shoreham Hotel. O'Donnell was the recipient of multiple standing ovations during her 18-minute remarks. Her speech elicited so much emotion from the crowd that some attendees in the few first few rows had eyes welled with tears.

Such an emotional outpouring may reflect the sentiment among many social conservatives that they, much like O'Donnell, have been underestimated and undervalued by the media and political establishment.

O'Donnell told the crowd to fight back against the critics who dismiss them as out of the mainstream.

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