The National Republican Senatorial Committee scrambled on Wednesday to tamp down speculation it would not support Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, even as her upset victory Tuesday cast doubt on the committee’s endorsement strategy.
O’Donnell used the support of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and the Tea Party Express to stun the political establishment when she beat the NRSC-backed Rep. Mike Castle, 53-47 percent.
The result represented a significant blow for the NRSC, as Castle represents the seventh NRSC-backed candidate who has failed to make it to the general election. In each case, the NRSC backed candidates who were taken by surprise by candidates to their right.
O’Donnell is viewed as a weaker general election candidate than Castle, which means the NRSC faces a steeper hill to picking up Vice President Joe Biden’s former seat — a lynchpin of their plan to regain the majority.
On Wednesday, the NRSC pushed back against speculation it wouldn’t help O’Donnell as she turns to her matchup against New Castle County Executive Chris Coons, a Democrat. NRSC Chairman John Cornyn of Texas issued a statement saying the committee stands behind O’Donnell and it would make a $42,000 contribution to her campaign, the maximum amount it can transfer.
“Let there be no mistake,” Cornyn said. “The National Republican Senatorial Committee — and I personally as the committee’s chairman — strongly stand by all of our Republican nominees, including Christine O’Donnell in Delaware.”
NRSC sources said there was significant frustration as the race came to a close because O’Donnell supporters and others on the right suggested the NRSC doesn’t support conservative candidates. That, they insisted, had nothing to do with the decision to endorse Castle, which was based entirely on their assessment that Castle was a more viable candidate than O’Donnell.
Still, the track record for NRSC-endorsed candidates this year is not strong. Most recently, Sen. Lisa Murkowski was stunned by attorney Joe Miller in the Alaska Senate primary. NRSC-preferred candidates Jane Norton in Colorado, Sue Lowden in Nevada and Trey Grayson in Kentucky all suffered similar fates, losing in primaries to candidates to their right.
Sen. Bob Bennett wasn’t able to make it out of Utah’s Republican convention and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist abandoned the GOP when former state House Speaker Marco Rubio gained momentum in their primary matchup.
It remains unclear at this point what the NRSC will do for O’Donnell in the general election besides cutting a check. Cornyn refused to say whether the NRSC would spend resources airing ads on O’Donnell’s behalf.
“In the weeks ahead, we will decide where to best allocate additional financial resources among the large number of competitive races at stake this November,” Cornyn said.
At this point it is unlikely that the NRSC goes into Delaware, but that isn’t a change in strategy. The NRSC didn’t reserve any time in the state when it looked like Castle would be the nominee because the committee anticipated Castle would have ample funds to air his own ads. If O’Donnell does not appear to be a viable candidate in the general election the NRSC won’t want to waste resources there.
NRSC sources insist, however, that if O’Donnell proves the race is competitive, it is willing to go on the air for her. They also said they anticipate helping O’Donnell raise money in Washington. Already on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader McConnell gave O’Donnell $5,000, the maximum amount he’s allowed to contribute.
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