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US Elections: And Now Delaware Becomes Very, Very Important

EA Worldview's US Politics correspondent, Lee Haddigan, writes:

Hours after the polls closed across Delaware in the Republican primary for the US Senate, the campaign of the victorious Christine O’Donnell --- favourite of the Tea Party and "insurgent" Republicans --- announced they had reached their fundraising target of $750,000 and were aiming for $1 million. This was not a target for the campaign to November's general election, but only for the day after the primary.

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, after a much criticized delay, announced they would be helping O’Donnell in her general election bid, despite the animosity in the primary with "establishment" candidate Mike Castle. And Wednesday evening the Tea Party Express sent out an email requesting donations to O’Donnell’s campaign.

All this cleared up one of the uncertainties surrounding O’Donnell’s chances in November. Whatever other problems she faces, finance will not be one of them. Nor will workers on the ground. While the Delaware Republican Party is unlikely to support a candidate they tried so hard to defeat, the Tea Party will take up the slack on that concern. O’Donnell, along with "insurgent" winners Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky, has become a standard-bearer for the Tea Party's national success.

Indeed, it is likely that Delaware will be the battleground state of these Congressional elections. The winner takes their seat in Senate immediately, rather than in January, as a replacement for Vice President Joe Biden. So, in the "lame duck" legislative session between November and the start of 2011, O'Donnell --- if she wins the election --- could become the critical vote on an issue like the "cap and trade" environmental bill.

And as US politics accelerates in 2011 towards the next Presidential race, O’Donnell would become a poster girl for the Tea Party/Sarah Palin attack on the Washington establishment. So Democrats will hope that by destroying O’Donnell in November, they can dent Palin’s image before her run for the White House.

Delaware has 621,000 registered voters, and it is possible to visit every part of the state in one day. The numbers of out-of-state volunteers required is minimal compared to Kentucky, Nevada, or the expanse of Alaska. The Tea Party Express have already announced that the Delaware and Nevada races are the two contests where they will be most involved. On the other side, the Democratic group Organizing for America sent out a nationwide request on Wednesday night for volunteers to help elect O'Donnell's opponent Chris Coons.

For O'Donnell to have a chance in November, she cannot rely solely on Tea Party diehards or even "establishment" Republicans. She has to attract independent and renegade Democrat voters or at least get the disillusioned Democrats to stay at home on Election Day and allow her to win by default.

However, Chris Coons is not without problems when it comes to persuading moderate Democrats to vote for him. The Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, --- hardly the favourite Democrat politician of recent times in some circles --- offered a poisoned chalice of an endorsement on Tuesday: “I’m going to be very honest with you – Chris Coons, everybody knows him in the Democratic caucus. He’s my pet. He’s my favorite candidate.”

Coons will also face some questions about an article he wrote as a student at Amherst College. Describing the experiences he gained on a semester long trip to Kenya he explained that he had been transformed from a conservative into a “bearded Marxist”. That comment was made 25 years ago, but if Coons' campaign decides to go after O’Donnell on her personal record then the Republicans have something to throw right back at him.

These are the numbers that come November will decide the issue:

STATEWIDE (registration totals as of September 1, 2010)

Kent County: 46,208 Democrats, 32,948 Republicans, 26,450 Others

New Castle: 194,504 Democrats, 101,496 Republicans, 92,301 Others

Sussex Castle: 52,026 Democrats, 48,352 Republicans, 27,461 Others

Statewide: 292,738 Democrats, 182,796 Republicans, 146,212 Others

The number of Democrats registered in northern Delaware's New Castle County appears to make it impossible for O’Donnell to win this election in a normal year. But this is not a normal year in US politics and, with seven weeks of tough campaigning to go, this election is not the certainty Democrats are claiming.

The first, and most important, indication of how this contest is progressing will occur on 19 October 19. On that day the State Election Commissioner will release the final registration totals for the election. Any changes in those figures, rather than any poll conducted before will be the clue to how Delaware intends to vote.

I like a bet on American politics. Many years I go I read Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, his account of George McGovern’s doomed attempt to become president in 1972. As an impressionable youth, I was intrigued by Thompson's revelations --- if he wasn’t making all of this up as a gonzo journalist --- of the money he had won betting with other reporters on that campaign.

So here is my last word on Delaware until late October when the new registration figures come out: if I am offered odds of 2-1 or higher on O’Donnell, I'm taking them.

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