Right now, I could see today’s Delaware Republican primary going either way, itself a big shift from just weeks ago. But if Mike Castle loses, Christine O’Donnell won’t be the only reason. Dede Scozzafava, Arlen Specter, Lincoln Chafee, and Jim Jeffords will have all played a role.
The conservative case for Castle is this: He can win. He has repeatedly won elections in Delaware. This could be the difference between Republican or Democratic control of the Senate, the passage or defeat of liberal legislation, the confirmation or rejection of liberal judges. Even if Castle himself votes regularly with the Democrats, he will do so less frequently than his Democratic opponent and he will empower more conservative senators by voting to allow the Republicans to organize the Senate if they have the majority or sustain filibusters if they remain in the minority.
But the examples of Scozzafava, Specter, Chafee, and Jeffords make conservatives question whether they could ever count on a liberal Republican to deliver when their vote is most needed. Three of those four Republicans left the party. The fourth, Scozzafava, endorsed a Democrat after abandoning her failed congressional campaign. This history makes it hard for conservatives to believe they have that big of a stake in the outcome of a Castle-Chris Coons contest. And only by convincing a critical mass of conservative Republicans that they have such a stake can Castle win.