The Blog

Why Christine O'Donnell Lost... A Long Time Ago

Midterm statistics show one clear thing for Delaware's Republican candidates: "Move to the middle! Christine O'Donnell failed in this task, and it cost her what could have been a winnable election.
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The pundits who thought Delaware Senate Republican candidate Christine O'Donnell was ever doing well among the state's electorate were sadly mistaken from the jump. Not only did she performed less than admirably in her debate performances, she mishandled her media relations, fought the state and national Republican Party organizations, and most importantly, she failed to connect with Delaware voters who hold the keys to any at-large victory: non-Republican and moderate voters in the Northern part of the state.

She spent plenty of time with her base--a great primary strategy--but never really moved beyond that political segment.

Just to put some context to her performance, in Tuesday night's general election, she received fewer votes (123,025) than the defeated Republican in the State Treasurer's race, Colin Bonini (146,991), and fewer votes than the defeated Democrat in the Auditor of Accounts' race, Richard Korn (147,504). That's not good. Heck, that's not even competitive.

Admittedly, a lot of what was said about Christine O'Donnell in the media--although not much of it was from Chris Coons--bordered on sexist. However, she didn't help her cause by not denouncing some salacious allegations about Republican Mike Castle's sexual orientation that came from her camp. So, the game was afoot early, and the typically Delaware rules of civility and honesty were laid to rest.

Suffice to say, that all of this is minor stuff compared to the fact that O'Donnell--and Republican House candidate Glenn Urquhart--didn't strategically connect their campaigns with the culture of the Delaware electorate. They both ran "national primaries" using rhetoric about "Obamacare," "Pelosi regimes," "Harry Reid," and "Big Government" in a state that still holds the President and Vice President is relatively high regard. Had they both toned things down and worked on their command of the issues, they might have had a chance..... I said, "a chance."

Unfortunately, the numbers were stacked against them from the start. Here are some basic facts.

Democrats make up most voters in the state. Of the 624,365 registered voters in Delaware, 47% are Democrats, 29% are Republican, and 23% are some other party or Independent. In addition, most registered voters reside in New Castle County (62%), the largest of the state's three counties; Kent County (17%) and Sussex County (21%) are the others.

Put the two preceding facts together and roughly one-third (31%) of all registered Delaware voters are Democrats in New Castle County, which is also the most educated, urban, wealthiest (highest median income), and racially diverse county in the state (Kent is a close second, and Sussex is a distant third). Bottom line: to win, you must make a dent among moderate Democrats and Independents in New Castle County.

We don't have all the numbers yet, but we know O'Donnell won Sussex and Kent by 17% and 6% points respectively, but lost by 35% points in New Castle. O'Donnell's raw losing margin in New Castle (-65,948) actually washed away her total votes in Sussex (40,345) and Kent (25,059). No dent, no win.

And things won't get any better for Republicans in the state who desire a more conservative political world.

Since 2000, the percent of registered Democrats in the state has increased by 37% (79,361), while the percentage of Republicans has increased by only 7% (12,177); other party groups and Independents have increased by 25% (29,213). More telling is the fact that in New Castle--again, the largest county--Republicans have actually decreased their numbers by 5% (-5,698) since 2000.

These very basic statistics scream one clear thing for Delaware's Republican candidates: "MOVE TO THE MIDDLE!!!" Both O'Donnell and Urquhart failed in this task, and it cost them what could have been a winnable election. After all, the Republicans did win big in the President's state, why not in Delaware? (....more to come on that one..).

This Senate election in Delaware wasn't about Mike Castle, Joe Biden, President Obama, incumbents, anger, the Tea Party, or a 90% employment rate, it was about two candidates; one who knew his audience, and one who thought she could change the minds of the Delaware electorate. And, as we all now realize, "change" takes longer than 22 months (... wink).