The Spectacle Blog

The O’Donnell Difference

By on 9.15.10 | 4:54PM

In his column for the main site, Jim Antle reminds us that Christine O'Donnell's victory last night was part of a broader trend of conservative outsider candidates beating moderate/liberal establishment Republicans:

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski fell to an unknown conservative named Joe Miller. Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson was badly beaten in his Senate race by upstart constitutionalist Rand Paul. Former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton lost a similar race to Ken Buck. Sharron Angle toppled Sue Lowden in Nevada. Sen. Bob Bennett didn't even make it out of the Utah Republican state convention. Florida's Charlie Crist and perennial Pennsylvania weathervane Arlen Specter have fled Republican Party to try to extend their political careers beyond primaries they had no hope of winning.

What makes O'Donnell's win different is that in all of the other Senate races where the establishment candidate has been upset, Republicans are still either favored to win or at least have a realistic chance of winning. However, in the case of Deleware, O'Donnell's victory has moved the seat from a likely GOP pickup oppourtunity to a likely defeat. And that raises a different set of questions. It isn't just a matter of replacing a RINO with a more conservative candidate in a Republican or Republican trending state, but rather, whether it's worth handing a seat to the Democrats in order to take a stand.

Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are two of the most frequently-cited examples of liberal Republicans, and sure, on many issues, they end up voting with Democrats. At the same time, they opposed ObamaCare and "card check," among other Obama administration initiatives. If Snowe and Collins would have been defeated by conservatives in primaries, and liberal Democrats were in their place, they not only would have voted with Democrats on the issues that Snowe and Collins did, but also would have likely voted Democrat on other major issues, like ObamaCare and "card check." So, there definitely are some drawbacks to the strategy of ousting liberal Republicans even in liberal Democratic states.

Yet even if O'Donnell goes on to lose the general election, as I expect that she will, my hope would be that the base's willingness to let Republicans lose a Senate seat would make it less likely that elected Republicans would take their seats for granted, and in that sense make them more responsive to conservatives. In this way, conservatives could end up with a more right-leaning body of elected officials, even if there aren't the maximum number of Republicans.

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