Sarah Palin had another successful primary night on Tuesday with conservative activist Christine O’Donnell’s stunning victory in Delaware. The surprise win, much like Palin endorsee Joe Miller’s big victory over incumbent Lisa Murkowski in Alaska’s Senate GOP primary last month, has political observers reeling. With 53 percent of the vote, O’Donnell beat Mike Castle, a popular 20-year veteran of the small state’s only House seat and a two-term governor.
After initially meeting with O’Donnell at the Restoring Honor rally with Glenn Beck on Aug. 28, Palin endorsed her last week. In backing the insurgent candidate, the former governor joined the Tea Party Express, which, as in Alaska, had been raising money and canvassing for O’Donnell for weeks. Palin also recorded a last-minute robo-call expressing her support for her newest “Mama Grizzly,” her nickname for the female candidates she backed.
Palin “got behind us war-weary folks, and gave us a boost of encouragement when we needed it,” O’Donnell said. “And she was a vote against the politics of personal destruction.”
Until Palin’s endorsement, O’Donnell was thought not to stand a chance against Castle, but a poll released Sunday by Public Policy Polling sounded the warning alarm when it had O’Donnell up three points.
In front of screaming supporters, O’Donnell thanked Palin in her speech Tuesday night.
“Thank you, Gov. Palin, for your endorsement. Because she got behind us war-weary folks, and gave us a boost of encouragement when we needed it,” O’Donnell said. “And she was a vote against the politics of personal destruction.”
O’Donnell might have been Palin’s biggest win, but it wasn’t her only one: former FBI agent and combat veteran Michael Grimm sailed to victory in the NY-13 GOP primary for the House seat representing Staten Island and part of Brooklyn. In Wisconsin, Sean Duffy, former district attorney and star of MTV’s The Real World, beat his challenger in his primary in that state’s 7th Congressional District. And in the NY-2 House race, businessman John Gomez was uncontested and did not face a GOP primary.
• Daily Beast contributors on the primary resultsThere was at least one loss for Palin: In Maryland, Brian Murphy lost his primary against former Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. in an interesting race that pitted Palin against the man who made her famous, John McCain. McCain backed Ehrlich, who will face off against Gov. Martin O’Malley in November. In New Hampshire, Palin’s “Mama Grizzly” former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte was neck and neck with conservative activist Ovide Lamontagne. By Wednesday afternoon, Ayotte had been called the winner by just 1,667 votes. This was a situation very different from her other endorsees: Palin backed the candidate seen as less conservative, while Lamontagne was the Tea Party favorite. Palin also recorded a last minute robo-call for Ayotte.
The primary night victories aside, the important question looking toward November is, of course, can these candidates win the general election? With Palin’s biggest win, O’Donnell, the answer seems to be a resounding no. She is widely seen as too conservative for the state’s moderate electorate, and even Karl Rove acknowledged she can’t beat the Democrat, New Castle County Executive Chris Coons. Before O’Donnell’s upset, the GOP was counting on Delaware as reliable win and a chance to capture the Senate majority.
Palin’s other endorsees have mixed chances: Duffy looks strong ahead of Democratic State Senator Julie Lassa, but he has already been targeted by ads put up by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee before Labor Day. Grimm will be in a tough but competitive race against incumbent Rep. Michael McMahon, and he’s hoping Palin will even come out to Staten Island to campaign for him. Gomez is going up against Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, who is considered safe.
Palin was silent on Facebook and Twitter throughout primary night, but she sent a late-night tweet congratulating the winners: “Competitive primaries=great 4 voters! Strong msgs sent&recvd tonite;congrats 2 the victors; Now, Commonsense Constitutionalists, let's unite”
Shushannah Walshe covers politics for The Daily Beast. She is the co-author of Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar. She was a reporter and producer at the Fox News Channel from August 2001 until the end of the 2008 presidential campaign.