Mike Castle: Is he the next Lisa Murkowski?

The Tea Party Express is targeting Mike Castle in the Delaware Republican Senate primary. But there are reasons the group might not duplicate the success it had in the Alaska GOP primary.

Matt Slocum/AP/file
Rep. Mike Castle (R) of Delaware answers a question during a town hall meeting on health care on Aug. 31, 2009, in Philadelphia.

Is Mike Castle the next Lisa Murkowski?

The Tea Party Express insists that he is. The group’s leaders say they are going to help defeat Congressman Castle in the upcoming Delaware GOP Senate primary – just like they helped knock off incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska.

The Tea Party Express has pumped $250,000 into ads boosting Christine O’Donnell, the "tea party" favorite who in this drama is attempting to play the part of Joe Miller. (Remember him? He’s the Fairbanks lawyer who beat Murkowski.)

Castle, a former Delaware governor and the longest-serving congressman in Delaware history, is just too liberal, say tea party activists. Ms. O’Donnell, a marketing consultant, tried to make that point Tuesday during a surprise appearance at a tea party gathering in a Wilmington, Del., hotel.

“My opponent is an Obama Republican who can’t defend his liberal voting record, so he’s resorting to mudslinging,” said O’Donnell.

The “mudslinging” reference is in regards to a bunch of things that state GOP leaders have said about O’Donnell. These include, but are not limited to, questions about her veracity, education, and ability to handle her own money, much less a campaign treasury. The state Republican Party chairman, Tom Ross, has dismissed her as a perennial candidate unworthy of being elected dog catcher.

So is this really shaping up to be another Alaska situation? Well, you never know in politics. Few people saw the Murkowski upset coming. But there are a number of reasons to believe that Castle remains the favorite to win Delaware’s Senate GOP primary and take on Democrat Chris Coons in November.

Let’s compare Alaska and Delaware, shall we? Alaska is big. Delaware is so small its nickname might be the “Sliver State.” Alaska’s main source of revenue is oil. Delaware’s main source of revenue is I-95 toll plazas.

Just kidding on that last one.

But here is a real and important difference: Delaware is politically liberal compared to Alaska. Look at the map of the political analyst Charlie Cook’s Partisan Voting Index, which measures how states lean, and you’ll see that Delaware is light blue. Alaska is dark red.

So being labeled a liberal might be much less damaging for Castle than it was for Murkowski. Remember that the seat in question here was held by Joe Biden until he was picked to be Obama’s VP.

Second, Castle is a Delaware icon. He’s been elected and reelected over the course of a long political career, and it is probably unlikely that voters are going to change their mind about him at this point. Delaware is so small that a high percentage of state voters have probably actually shaken his hand.

Murkowski, on the other hand, was a relative newcomer, appointed to her Senate seat by her father.

So, again, you never predict never in US politics. The Tea Party Express paid for a poll that is says shows O’Donnell within 2 percentage points of Castle.

But a Rasmussen survey released Tuesday showed O’Donnell behind the Democratic candidate by 11 percentage points – and Castle ahead of that same Democratic candidate by 11 percentage points. That’s quite a swing.

Rasmussen did not poll about the primary itself, since in general primaries get much less survey attention than general elections do.

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